Privacy Management and Complains: open letter to @Twitter
It's been a while since I started using Twitter, and it wasn't too easy. I didn't know how to do it. But in time I found it as much fun as it is useful for work or even contacts with friends. I won't quit using Twitter and will still keep saying it's a great social network, with a drawback.
I don't wish anyone to fall in complain with their moderation system and support. Honestly I think it's one of the worst things I have ever seen. But first things first.
Technically if you post something on Twitter your site/blog or whatever gets heavily indexed in few seconds after you post a link, which is something really delightful. Your followers can get up your update near in real time, and things are smooth. Add to that the amount of side-sites that gathers and logs your tweets, things can get very viral and wide spread. And this should be a good thing.
A couple of months ago I got involved by a friend who has been inolved in a conflictual discussion on the social network. The situation slowly degraded into stalking and rough insults, down to harassment. The biggest problem was she actually was using her real first and last names in her account, so she's been exposed directly and among with that, that put a threat to her own family as well.
And here things got worse. Albeit reporting to Twitter the abuse and harassment to the offending users, there was little or no feedback from the Social Network's support, and when it came, three days has passed. Three days of indexing, public exposure, and such. In the meantime the stalking kept going on, the lack of response from the Support as well, and photographic material started to spread with offending content. And believe it or not, this was not the worst part.
I'll spare the details about proceedings, but will stick on the Social Network's (lack of) actions. The offending users have been reported for harassment and, after an eternal time, they have been suspended. I believe Twitter sends an automated e-mail after you reach a determined amount of abuse-reports, that says: "If your account has been suspended, please remove the accused tweets, and respond to this email stating that you have read and understood our rules".
What comes to my mind is a kid at the kindergarden being told to behave and left playing back again. In fact, hours later, the offending users were still online. Angrier and more offensive. And fake profiles started appearing, spoofing the real user's name (using UTF characters to make them look similar to the ASCII characters). And the abuse report started again, trying to get rid of the fake profile and such, sending documents to Twitter for an identity theft report. The profile have been removed, but guess what? The offending users are still online and "tweeting" insults.
Apparently the easiest way to do this is: get online, tweet your insults (or offending content), keep it online as much as it fills up your followers' time lines and then delete the tweets, so you cannot be reported for spam or abuse. Keep on repeating.
Also it turns out there is no history in Twitter logs about the deleted tweets, so if you have a complain about you being harassed or offended or stalked, there is nothing that can be recalled from the system to help you out. And anyways they respond in 3 days usually, which nowadays is an impressive (and harmful) amount of time.
I may conclude that as much as Twitter is an amazing tool, it can be a hell of pain when it comes to drawbacks of their privacy issues management. I could see that people talking for leisure on Twitter can easily have a couple of thousands of followers by following the "follow me, I'l follow you" rule, and can also get as much as couple hundreds of tweets per day. I see nothing bad about it, the nice part of a social network is that you can... socialize. But at what cost?
Technically I see some real flaws in how Twitter (does not) collect data, especially when it comes up to a complain. I understand very well the issues that can come up by managing the amount of data collected (Big Data for the fans), but what I can't really understand is the lack of privacy oriented policies.
In a social moment like today Privacy is a real thing, and threats can go from a website to real life in no time (actually pictures taken of real life streets have appeared during the above happenings). I believe thinking of a Social Network - of any size - without a privacy oriented procedures and techniques is suicide.
This article has been written after being involved in happenings occurred on Italian territory. I will not release under no circumstances any kind of details about happenings, but would offer any kind of support in helping out this kind of issues management, both technically and ethically.