Twitter will begin using a wider range of signals to rank tweets in conversations and searches, hiding more replies that are likely to be abusive, the company said today. Comments from users that have often been blocked, muted, or reported for abuse will be less visible throughout the service, CEO Jack Dorsey told a group of reporters. “We are making progress as we go,” Dorsey said.
Twitter already ranks tweets in search and in conversations. But until now, it has not taken negative signals into account when ranking them. This has meant that replies could easily be gamed by bad actors, whether they’re spammers hawking cryptocurrencies or bot networks attempting to influence elections.
Twitter will now begin examining a much wider variety of signals when ranking tweets in conversations and in search, Dorsey said. Some of those signals include number of accounts created by the person tweeting, IP address, and whether the tweet had led people to block the person tweeting it. Twitter won’t remove the tweets from Twitter, it said, but they will now be moved to the “see more replies” section of a conversation, where they are hidden behind an additional tap.
A test of the new approach to ranking found that the number of abuse reports generated from conversations declined by 8 percent, the company said. “The spirit of the thing is, we want to take the burden of the work off the people receiving the abuse or harassment,” Dorsey said.
Relying on algorithmic signals could have several advantages for Twitter as it works to reduce abuse on the platform. They work without respect to the content of the tweet, sparing Twitter from having to make tricky decisions around the tone or intent of a message. And they work regardless of the language the tweet was written in, allowing the company to roll the changes out globally all at once.
At the same time, decisions made by algorithms can also go disastrously awry, and can be difficult for outsiders to understand. Dorsey said Twitter is conscious of that and would invest in making sure the product communicated about how it makes decisions. The company will also consider issuing reports on the enforcement actions it takes across the platform, said Del Harvey, the company’s vice president of trust and safety.
“We want to take the burden of the work off the people receiving the abuse or harassment.”
The moves are meant to address Twitter’s longstanding struggle to rein in abusive accounts. The company has made several high-profile moves over the past two years to make the service feel more civil, but continues to draw criticism for its opaque policies and inconsistent enforcement.
The changes, which will roll out to all users globally this week, come two months after Twitter issued a request for proposals from researchers and academics to help the company measure the health of public conversations on the site. The company received 230 such proposals, product manager David Gasca said, and Twitter will announce its next steps with those proposals within the next several weeks.