This weekend, some Twitter users noticed a new "muted words" feature appear inside their iOS apps, fueling speculation that the social network may be close to revealing new abuse prevention tools.
The feature was spotted Friday evening but appears to have been taken offline only minutes later. From the screenshots, the tool seems to allow you to mute keywords and hashtags so that they don't show up in your timeline. Instagram rolled out a similar feature this September, along with a “default” filter, which hides posts if they include offensive words from a preset list.
While a keyword filter could protect from spoilers or keep distracting events from your timeline, the tool's primary focus would be to protect users from targeted abuse by allowing them to filter everything from racial slurs to personalized insults that traditional algorithms might not catch. In August, Bloomberg reported that Twitter had been considering the implementation of a filtering feature for the better part of a year. Just last week, Twitter hinted that abuse and safety tools would be forthcoming. The social platform has struggled to contain a rapidly growing harassment problem.
Twitter did not respond as to whether we'll see a "muted words" feature soon. If implemented, the tool would be a meaningful step to give users the agency to protect themselves on the platform.
Some critics, though, see keyword filtering as only one half of the problem and urge platforms like Twitter to adopt more stringent abuse reporting and enforcement procedures, as well as preemptive filtering that doesn't require users to do anything. Twitter has taken steps in this area — this year it rolled out a quality filter algorithm to weed potentially abusive tweets from users' timelines. But it still has a long way to go.
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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