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Autism Awareness Zelda Williams the Samaritans

'Twitter has a responsibility to protect users' – charities welcome Twitter's plans to change policy on abuse


By Ishbel Macleod, PR and social media consultant

August 15, 2014 | 3 min read

Twitter has promised that it will look into its policies after Robin Williams' daughter Zelda was forced to quit the platform after being sent mocked-up pictures of her father after he committed suicide.

The Samaritans, a charity who aims to provide emotional support to those in distress, has spoken out about the way that the Robin Williams case has been handled in the press.

A Samaritans spokesperson told The Drum: “We welcome the announcement by Twitter that it will be reviewing its policies. By making this announcement Twitter has taken an important step in supporting vulnerable people online.

"Understanding more about the impact the online environment can have on vulnerable people, both in a positive and negative way, is an important priority for Samaritans at the moment.”

Zelda encouraged users to report her trolls before she left the social networking site, stating: "Twitter requires a link [to the tweet] and I won’t open it. Don’t either. Please."

Autism Awareness charity campaigner Kevin Healey – and someone who has suffered abuse on Twitter himself - is also in favour of Twitter going further with its policy.

“Twitter really needs to take action and review all their policies on abuse, and even verification. Having been trolled, abused, impersonated, and cloned on Twitter they have been not helpful at all, police, MEP and my MP have all written to Twitter to ask them to protect and verify my account but they still haven't: they let the impersonation and abuse continue,” he told The Drum.

“They have a moral responsibility to protect their users, but they simply don't.”

Healey took to Twitter last month to start his own campaign in the hope of getting himself verified, something which has not happened to date, as Twitter states it does not accept requests for verification from the general public.

Social media management agency Tempero's CEO Dominic Sparkes said: “It’s obviously excellent news that Twitter are looking to improve their policies, but it’s just a shame it took an event that was so tragic and public for them to make this move.

“We’d be interested to know the details of how they’re going to improve their policies - perhaps allowing users who haven’t been directly affected but still feel moved to report abusive behaviour aimed at others - would be a good start."

Tempero’s point is one that has been made before about Twitter: last year, a petition was launched in the UK to create a “report abuse” button on tweets, after Caroline Criado-Perez received death threats.

While the plans to change the policy, as put forward by Twitter's vice president of trust and safety last night, will have some effect, there is doubt over how successful it will be.

Sparkes concluded: “The obvious problem Twitter is always going to have, is the sheer volume of content on its platform and its inability to look into every issue that arises. In this instance, it was possibly easier for them to react quickly as it was such a high-profile news story.”

Should this subject affect yourself or any other person you know, you can contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.

Autism Awareness Zelda Williams the Samaritans

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