Twitter abuse victim, tech expert applaud protection measures

Ottawa Morning speaks with security technology expert and a woman who has suffered online abuse by Twitter users. Both hope new protection measures announced by Twitter Tuesday result in fewer trolls on the social media platform.

Twitter users hope campaign to crackdown on hate speech, abuse works

Twitter has said it's been working to identify people who have been banned for abusive behavior and stop them from creating new accounts. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

As a well-known woman's issues advocate in Ottawa, Julie Lalonde says she's been the target of many abusive tweets —  including threats to physically harm, sexually assault or even kill her.

But Lalonde hopes that Twitter's announcement last week — in which the social media platform said it intends to clamp down on harassment and abuse from its users — will make it possible for her to open her account without fear.

"I am welcoming of any changes Twitter wants to make, but I do think we have to be vigilant and hold them accountable, every step of the way," Lalonde told CBC's Ottawa Morning recently.

Julie Lalonde, an Ottawa women's issues advocate, says she's cautiously hopeful about Twitter's plans to clamp down on online abuse. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

On Feb. 7, Twitter said it would start identifying people who have been banned for bullying or abusive behaviour — so-called "Twitter trolls" — and stop them from creating new accounts under another name.

Twitter also said it would create a feature that allows users to search more safely, by blocking tweets with potentially sensitive words, terms or phrases. The company plans to toughen the language around what's considered acceptable and what it's deemed "hateful" content, as well.

Twitter trolls well established

Not everyone is so sure Twitter will be able to accomplish those goals, however.

Mark Nunnikhoven, the vice-president of cloud management with security company Trend Micro, told Ottawa Morning that while he applauds the measures, Twitter has been around for so long — and the problems with abusive trolls are so well established  — that it will be difficult to "retrofit" the measures.

Since Twitter is an American company it conforms to U.S. standards of free speech rather than Canadian ones, he added.

"We have laws against hate speech. The U.S. protects all kinds of speech and that's a big difference," said Nunnikhoven. "It's a global platform, but it's rolled out of the U.S."

Lalonde said she will probably still have some trepidation about using Twitter, despite the new measures.

Who says it should just be privileged white men who get to own that space?- Julie Lalonde

But she also says she won't give up on the social media site. 

"On a logistical level, Twitter is important for the kind of work people like me do. It's how you advertise events, it's how you let people know about events ... so I don't have the luxury of not being on [the] platform because my work is public-facing," said Lalonde.

"But on a moral level, who is to say that women or people of colour or queer folks don't have a right to be on that space? Who says it should just be privileged white men who get to own that space?" she added.

"I don't think that should be the case at all."