Why Leslie Jones’ Hack Puts More Pressure on Twitter to Stop Harassment

Is Twitter finally changing?

Last Updated: August 25, 2016 @ 11:07 AM

Leslie Jones has been a target of an intense, ongoing, racist and sexist cyberbullying campaign that has just moved from Twitter to her own personal website.

The hack, which exposed nude photos and other private items, comes after Twitter harassment of the “Ghostbusters” and “Saturday Night Live” star dating back at least to March. The hackers themselves linked the invasion of her privacy with the Twitter fight: The hacked site Wednesday included a tweet in which Jones encouraged a follower to go after one of her harassers, saying “Get her.”

Jones has considered quitting Twitter a few times during the months-long ordeal, saying at one point, “This hurts me.” In late July, she spoke with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who later condemned the attacks against the star, saying, “we need to do better.”

That admission came after he said last year in an internal company memo: “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we’ve sucked at it for years.”

One way the site tried to deal with the Jones situation was to permanently ban Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who was accused of leading the harassment campaign.

“No one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others,” a Twitter spokesperson told TheWrap in a recent email exchange, before this week’s Jones hack.

But the struggling social media platform has been facing more pressure than ever to step up its efforts against such attacks, which aren’t isolated to Jones and celebrities.

The New York Times recently called out anti-Semitic trolls who placed parentheses around the names of Twitter users they believed to be Jewish to mark new targets for harassment. Targeting normal citizens and public figures alike, the campaign prompted an editor at the news outlet to quit the social media platform altogether.

Several other outlets have also noted Twitter’s failure to stop online harassment, including Buzzfeed, which recently posted a lengthy indictment of what it said were Twitter’s lax policies on abuse since its founding nearly a decade ago.

The question is whether Twitter’s latest actions are a serious attempt at addressing the problem, or just a series of Band-Aids.

The site recently expanded its policies around verified accounts, which forbid anonymity. But the site is only willing to verify the accounts of those “determined to be of public interest,”  including the accounts of “public figures and organizations in music, TV, film, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.”

In other words, there’s nothing forcing trolls to use their real names.

Last week, Twitter also opened up the use of two filters that had been available only to public figures up until that point to help weed out harassers. Now, all of the site’s users can limit notifications to only people they follow, and also access a setting designed to weed out low-quality posts.

“We are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to better allow us to identify and take faster action on abuse as it’s happening and prevent repeat offenders,” the Twitter spokesperson told TheWrap. “We have been in the process of reviewing our policies to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted.”

But seeing as Jones, a public figure, had access to these filters and got harassed anyway, it’s not yet clear how effective they will be at curbing the wider problem.

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