If you want the Nazis out of your Twitter feed, it helps to be a VIP.
When Twitter users report harassment on the website, their reports land in one of two queues: one slower-moving line, and one high-priority “VIP” line for verified users and Twitter employees’ favorite accounts, former staff say. The website is currently facing demands for greater transparency in its abuse reporting process, after actress Rose McGowan’s account was temporarily suspended last week, after she posted a private phone number while tweeting about sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Twitter’s swift response highlighted the site’s inaction against its legions of neo-Nazis, trolls, and bots who continue to tweet far worse, with little repercussion. Twitter users with friends at the company can get special treatment, one former Twitter employee told The Daily Beast.
Twitter “gets so many complaints you have to know someone to get your report moved up,” the former employee, who left the company over a year ago said.
After McGowan’s suspension, Twitter users complained that the site appears to take some users’ complaints more seriously than others.
“Some alt-right dickbag tweeted my phone number last winter, and when I reported it Twitter denied it was a violation of terms of service,” writer Natalie Shure tweeted after Twitter announced it had suspended McGowan for tweeting a phone number.
Not all abuse reports are created equal, former employees told The Daily Beast. One former employee, who recently left the company, said abuse reports are funneled into two queues. The first queue accepts complaints from most Twitter users. The mass of reports in this line means a slower response time.
The second queue, which moves faster, accepts reports from verified users and accounts that Twitter employees like. An internal tool at Twitter allows employees to reroute abuse reports from the slow queue to the fast track. Sometimes Twitter employees use that tool to escalate reports that have gone ignored.
But the system could allow for personal biases to influence Twitter’s response to abuse. Even before McGowan’s suspension, Twitter users have complained of having their accounts frozen when they tweeted profanity against alt-right and white supremacists accounts, while some of those accounts remained active and even became verified.
Twitter “doesn’t really have anyone from a harassment, academic, or activist background” responding to complaints, one former employee said, adding that the work is “going to developers who don’t use the platform.”
Reached for comment about how Twitter ensures fair treatment of harassment reports, a company representative asked for potentially identifying information on ex-Twitter employees The Daily Beast had interviewed, as well as more information on “why you believe this opinion is worth digging into?”
When The Daily Beast declined to give information on the former Twitter employees, the company did not return multiple follow-up emails.
One former employee said Twitter’s abuse response teams are based mostly in San Francisco and Dublin, where they use a flowchart-like system for identifying abuse: Did the user make an explicit threat? Did they expose private, identifying information like a phone number?
But the chart, which has reportedly undergone multiple iterations, does not always account for the human side of an abuse case.
“You risk having [employees] turn into automatons just following the checklist,” a former employee said, “even when common sense or gut experience should intervene and have someone say ‘wait a second. I know I processed 10,000 tickets this week that all went down this same branch of the decision tree, but this seems like a special case that we should handle differently.’”
Since its inception, the flowchart has undergone multiple iterations as Twitter tinkers with its abuse policy, a former employee said. In the past, for example, Twitter only considered a threat credible if it detailed exactly where and when a user would commit an act of violence.
But Twitter’s rules have changed. In ensuing uproar after Rose McGowan’s suspension, the company rolled out new policies that would take a harder line on hate groups and tweets that glorify violence, Wired reported Tuesday.
McGowan’s tweet was a case study in the loopholes in Twitter’s abuse policies, one employee said.
“[T]he agent was undoubtedly looking at the checklist: Did she tweet out a phone number? Yes. If I google it, does it come up? No, ergo it’s a private phone number, suspend the account,” the employee said.
“I think there was a missed opportunity to stand up and say, ‘oh, this is one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers. We’d look pretty bad if we did this. Perhaps there’s a more subtle way to address this one.’”