Twitter...FILE - This Nov. 4, 2013 file photo shows the icon for the Twitter app on an iPhone in San Jose, Calif. The messaging service on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 said it has removed the star icon found under every tweet and replaced it with a heart. Twitter Inc. said it made the change because the star can be confusing to new users and the heart is more universally known around the globe. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Shares fell as much as 10 per cent despite a re-acceleration of user growth and engagement © AP

Twitter is taking more steps to combat abuse as it tries to ensure users are not driven away from the messaging platform by suffering insults or seeing hateful comments about others.

The San Francisco-based company is making three changes to the product, with a focus on hiding abuse from viewers rather than outright censorship.

Twitter is working on a “safe search” feature, that users can turn on to remove sensitive content or tweets from accounts they have blocked or muted. The site will also not show abusive conversation chains, unless users seek them out, and last week it announced that users will be able to report tweets that mention them, even if they have previously blocked the account.

The company will also prevent people who have already had their account shut down for abuse from creating a new username. However, it said it would focus on the worst cases. “This focuses more effectively on some of the most prevalent and damaging forms of behaviour, particularly accounts that are created only to abuse and harass others,” said Ed Ho, the company’s vice-president of engineering, in a blog post

Twitter has been increasingly aggressive in banning users, including high-profile members of the so-called alt-right, a white nationalist movement. Jack Dorsey, the co-founder brought back as chief executive in 2015, tweeted last week that Twitter was measuring its progress against abuse on a daily basis.

Mr Ho said Twitter stood for “freedom of expression and people being able to see all sides of any topic”.

“That’s put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices. We won’t tolerate it and we’re launching new efforts to stop it,” he said. 

The company had always held dear a freedom-of-speech philosophy of “tweets must flow” but began to worry that abuse on the platform could be contributing to sluggish user growth. Twitter’s userbase increased 1 per cent to 317m in the third quarter compared with the previous one.

Twitter was in talks to sell itself to prospective buyers including Walt Disney, Google and Salesforce last year, according to people familiar with the matter, and abuse may have been a concern for potential suitors.

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