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Twitter updates abuse rules after UK backlash over threats

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 12:52 PM EDT, Sun August 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Twitter updates its rules on abusive behavior following a backlash in Britain
  • "It comes down to this: people deserve to feel safe on Twitter," says the firm's UK boss
  • Twitter is introducing "in-tweet" report abuse button to make it easier for victims to get help
  • A series of threats against women prompted a public campaign for Twitter to do more

London (CNN) -- Twitter responded Saturday to a backlash in the United Kingdom sparked by recent online threats against women by announcing it had revised its rules on abusive behavior.

"It comes down to this: people deserve to feel safe on Twitter," says a statement posted by Twitter's UK boss Tony Wang and Del Harvey, senior director for trust and safety.

The social network's announcement comes in the wake of rape threats made via Twitter against feminist Caroline Criado-Perez and Labour Party politician Stella Creasy, and bomb threats made to a number of women journalists.

The women's treatment at the hands of Internet "trolls" has prompted outcry and fueled a wider debate over whether Twitter does enough to protect its users from ugly abuse.

More than 120,000 people put their name to an online petition set up on Change.org calling for Twitter to add a "report abuse" button to tweets in the space of a week.

"Abuse on Twitter is common; sadly too common. And it frequently goes ignored," the petition states.

Twitter said Saturday an "in-tweet" report abuse button had been introduced in the latest version of its app on Apple devices, and that from next month the button will also be available in its Android app and on Twitter.com.

This means users won't have to go to Twitter's help page to file an abuse report.

"We have updated the Twitter Rules to clarify that we do not tolerate abusive behaviour," the statement said.

"We want people to feel safe on Twitter, and we want the Twitter Rules to send a clear message to anyone who thought that such behaviour was, or could ever be, acceptable."

Wang also tweeted an apology to the women who have been targeted by abuse in recent days.

"I personally apologize to the women who have experienced abuse on Twitter and for what they have gone through," he said. "The abuse they've received is simply not acceptable. It's not acceptable in the real world, and it's not acceptable on Twitter."

The company is adding extra staff to the teams that handle abuse reports and will be exploring new technology to boost protection for users, it said.

Twitter's new pressure to limit hate speech

Arrests made over threats

A national cybercrime unit is now investigating allegations made by eight people that they have been subject to harassment, malicious communication or bomb threats, according to a police statement Friday.

Two men were arrested in the past week in connection with the rape threats made against Criado-Perez and Creasy.

Criado-Perez attracted the attention of Internet "trolls" by petitioning to have women displayed on British banknotes.

The feminist champion and freelance journalist, whose campaign resulted in the Bank of England agreeing to picture "Pride and Prejudice" author Jane Austen on every 10-pound bill, tweeted throughout the abuse: "I actually can't keep up with the screen-capping & reporting -- rape threats thick and fast now."

Creasy, who represents an east London constituency in Parliament, became the target of online rape threats after she spoke out in support of Criado-Perez.

Newspaper columnists Hadley Freeman, of The Guardian, and Grace Dent, of The Independent, received a bomb threat via Twitter on Wednesday, as did Time magazine's Europe editor, Catherine Mayer, and Emma Barnett, women's editor for The Telegraph newspaper.

CNN's Bharati Naik contributed to this report.

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