Twitter’s introduction of a report button was necessary after the events of the last week, during which Caroline Criado-Perez was subjected to hours of abuse for campaigning for Jane Austen to be the face of the new £10 note. However, it’s the equivalent of a sticking plaster and won’t solve the issue of users sending abusive messages on its own.

Why is that? Because fundamentally some people don’t know how to behave on the internet yet. Some don’t know that, just like in real life, it’s not ok to abuse people, for any reason. And they haven’t realised that services like Twitter have terms of service which users need to abide by to avoid being banned.

Now these terms of service provide a real opportunity for Twitter and something it should address quickly if it wants to be seen to be taking steps to eradicate abuse. At the moment, when you sign up, the Terms of Service are reduced to a tiny two line box alongside some printable links. Blink and you’d easily miss it.

twitter sign up journey

If you want to know what you’re signing up to (and I’d wager that very few think to have a read), the Terms of Service box expands to make it easier to read. But the part about Twitter retaining the right to remove content and bans users is point 8 in a list of twelve, quite far down that box.

twitter restrictions on content

Now, if you’re a new user and you’re keen to know where you stand with Twitter (not many), it’s frankly a miracle if you’ve reached that far. And if you don’t, that means that you’ll never read the Twitter rules (see hyperlink in screenshot above) which Del Harvey placed so much emphasis on in her ‘We hear you’ blog on Monday. So, on one hand, Twitter are saying these rules are important and yet they’re given no prominence in the sign up journey whatsoever.

So what would more prominence look like then? Perhaps the first page when you create your account shouldn’t be this one explaining what a tweet is:

twitter welcome page

..but one which makes use of the space to give new users tips about the manner in which they’re expected to behave and the consequences if they don’t.

twitter sign up (altered)

This idea of establishing a code of behaviour and educating users as to what that is isn’t particularly sexy but it could provide a way of steering people away from sending abusive messages in the same way that Mary Beard did by threatening to tell a user’s mum that he’d called her a ‘filthy old slut’. Making clear what the consequences could have a sobering effect for a potential abusive Twitter user.

Scalability is clearly the key for Twitter. Hadley Freeman gets it almost spot on in her piece yesterday but misses the point somewhat in claiming that Twitter just need to hire more people:

As for people who claim that an abuse button will be abused, well, that’s what the moderators are for. I’m pretty sure Twitter can hire more staff.

Twitter may well do that in short term but it’s not feasible to do that as they look to grow their user base for all the reasons Tom Phillips outlines. It’s clear they’ll look for other options to relieve the burden on the new reporting function – scale and volume are smack bang in the second paragraph of Del Harvey’s blogpost on Monday - and perhaps educating new users is one way of doing that.

As Sharon O’Dea notes, this is a complex issue that one button probably can’t solve. For Twitter and its users to benefit, it needs to reevaluate the sign up journey and educate new users as to what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. After all, telling people how to avoid cutting their finger before they do so is much more useful than providing sticking a plaster when it happens.