Update: Twitter permanently suspended Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos Tuesday following incidents of harassment against actress Leslie Jones, according to Recode, which identified Yiannopoulos as one of the main instigators of harassment of Jones. Yiannopoulos has reportedly been banned for repeated harassment of Twitter users.

Twitter: It's where you go to read streams of racist abuse from a bunch of egg avatars with 27 followers.

At least, if that were the purpose of Twitter, actress Leslie Jones may not have been so shocked and hurt by the treatment she received on the platform Monday.

The star of the new Ghostbusters reboot found herself targeted by a deluge of blatantly racist and otherwise abusive messages: One user called black comedian a "big lipped coon," another tweeted a photo of a gorilla at her, a third apparently photoshopped screenshots of tweets to make it appear Jones had been calling a gay media personality on the platform a "fag."

It was too much, and Jones told Twitter as much. "Twitter I understand you got free speech I get it. But there has to be some guidelines when you let spread like that," reads a portion of a tweet Jones typed in a series of responses to the harassment she was receiving.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded, "Hi Leslie, following, please DM me when you have a moment."

 

Twitter said in a statement about treatment of Jones on the platform, "This type of abusive behavior is not permitted on Twitter, and we've taken action on many of the accounts reported to us by both Leslie and others. We rely on people to report this type of behavior to us but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse. We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues."

If this were an isolated incident, Dorsey's tweet and Twitter's statement would be read as an example of him taking the issue of harassment sufficiently seriously. But what Jones is experiencing is just one example of what is a well-documented problem for a number of Twitter's users, especially women and members of minority groups.

Clearly, Twitter needs a better way to help its users avoid abuse and threats to their safety on the platform. And that's been the case for years. The company has made attempt after attempt to mitigate harassment issues. Users have access to features that allow them to block other users from seeing their tweets, and to mute other users so that they don't see when a user has mentioned them.  Several months ago, the company created a Trust & Safety Council. Dorsey has asserted that stemming harassment is one of his highest priorities.

Yet, more than 10 years after the company's founding and roughly a year into Dorsey's return, Jones' experience shows that Twitter's efforts haven't done much to actually change users' experiences. Critics say the company needs to go further. The company could make it so only people who follow users flagged as abusive can see their tweets, for example; or it could be quicker to block users.

In rare situations where Twitter has taken aggressive action against users, some have questioned the company's approach. When the company banned rapper Azealia Banks in May for tweets deemed racist and homophobic, some questioned whether the company was acting hypocritically in banning a black woman on the platform for harassment when users identifying themselves as white supremacists appear to use the platform freely to taunt minority users.

The company recently modified its block feature in a way intended to make it easier to block users. But the question arises of whether the move is just an example of too little, too late--not just for users who have faced abuse, but for Twitter itself. The company appears to have lost the presence of a major comedian on the platform, and that matters for a social media company struggling with user growth. 

"I used to wonder why some celebs don't have Twitter accts now I know. You can't be nice and communicate with fans cause people crazy," Jones tweeted Monday.

Celebrities are a big draw for users on Twitter, providing an opportunity for fans to interact in a direct way with people they admire. But Twitter is not a hospitable environment even for users who are arguably most valuable to the company's bottom line.

Jones is far from the first celebrity to complain about Twitter. Actors on the show Silicon Valley recently told Inc. that, for similar reasons, they either avoid Twitter and other social media or heavily restrict their usage.

For those willing to put themselves out there for fans online, other platforms may seem more alluring. Twitter power user Kim Kardashian turned to Snapchat to share the biggest piece of celebrity gossip of late--a video recording of a phone conversation in which Taylor Swift reportedly gave Kanye West permission for a now infamous lines in the song "Famous" that Swift has since publicly taken issue with.

Around the time Kardashian released the video, she even tweeted a plug for her Snapchat account: "do u guys follow me on snap chat? u really should ;-)"

Published on: Jul 19, 2016