Pando

Twitter makes it easier to tell police about online threats, but will they care?

By Nathaniel Mott , written on March 18, 2015

From The News Desk

Twitter has made it easier for its users to inform police of violent threats.

Now, when a Twitter user reports threatening tweets, the company offers to send a summary of the report that can be forwarded to local authorities. This summary makes it clear who made a threat, when it was sent, and when it was first reported.

The summary also links to a page which offers "guidance on how to request non-public user information from Twitter." In this way, police won't just know a threat has been made; they'll also know what they can do to learn more about whoever sent it.

"While we take threats of violence seriously and will suspend responsible accounts when appropriate," Twitter says in a blog post, "We strongly recommend contacting your local law enforcement if you’re concerned about your physical safety."

But it's not clear if police will take these threats seriously, regardless of whether they're reported with an in-depth report letting them know what happened. As Amanda Hess wrote in a piece about why women aren't welcome on social media:

[A] Palm Springs police officer lumbered up the steps to my hotel room, paused on the outdoor threshold, and began questioning me in a steady clip. I wheeled through the relevant background information: I am a journalist; I live in Los Angeles; sometimes, people don’t like what I write about women, relationships, or sexuality; this was not the first time that someone had responded to my work by threatening to rape and kill me. The cop anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, 'What is Twitter?'
Police are starting to take online threats seriously -- as long as they're made against other police. I wrote when people were arrested for threatening police on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube after two NYPD officers were killed in December 2014:
Now it seems many police departments do indeed know what Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are, and they are taking threats published to those networks quite seriously, at least when officers are the targets. One wonders how long it will be before the near-constant online threats against women and other groups are regarded just as seriously.
Making it easier to report threats to the police is a laudable effort. But unless these law enforcement agencies are taught to understand why these threats are so dangerous, or that threats against regular citizens are as worthy of concerns as those targeting police officers, this change probably won't change much.