Social networking site Twitter has issued new rules to help clamp down on abusive behaviour. The company has updated its rules to make it clear that abuse will not be tolerated, and has put extra staff in place to handle reports of abuse, it said on Saturday.
The move comes as police revealed they are investigating allegations by eight people of abuse on the microblogging site. Scotland Yard said its e-crime unit is looking into the claims, three of which involve incidents outside London. Twitter found itself in the spotlight after three female journalists said they had been the subject of bomb threats on the site and two received threats of rape.
The revelations sparked a backlash online, with an online petition calling for Twitter to add a "report abuse" button to tweets attracting more than 120,000 signatures. In a message posted on its blog today, Twitter's senior director for trust and safety, Del Harvey, and UK general manager Tony Wang said it has updated its rules in light of feedback from customers.
"It comes down to this: people deserve to feel safe on Twitter," they said.
The company has updated its rules, clarifying that it will not tolerate abusive behaviour, they said, adding that an "in-tweet" report button has been added so people can report abusive behaviour directly from a tweet.
"We want people to feel safe on Twitter, and we want the Twitter rules to send a clear message to anyone who thought that such behaviour was, or could ever be, acceptable," they wrote.
They said additional staff are being added to the teams which handle abuse reports and the company is working with the UK Safer Internet Centre, which promotes the safe and responsible use of technology.
"We are committed to making Twitter a safe place for our users," they said, adding: "We're here, and we're listening to you."
The bomb threat tweet was sent to Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, Independent columnist Grace Dent and Europe editor of Time magazine Catherine Mayer, which Dent took a screen grab of and posted for her Twitter followers to see. The message was also sent to a number of other women, including Sara Lang, a social media manager at US campaign group AARP.
In separate incidents, Labour MP Stella Creasy and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, who successfully fought for a woman's face to appear on £10 banknotes, were threatened on Twitter with rape. Two arrests have already been made in relation to those threats.
In a statement, Scotland Yard said an investigation into eight allegations had been launched into all the claims.
The force said: "Detectives from the Specialist Organised & Economic Crime Command have taken responsibility for the investigations into a number of allegations recently made to the MPS relating to allegations of malicious communication made on the social networking site Twitter.
"The Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU), who hold the police national cyber crime remit, is now investigating allegations made by eight people that they have been subject to harassment, malicious communication or bomb threats. Whilst outside PCeU's cyber operational remit, the MPS has taken the decision to centralise the individual investigations, including three that are outside London, to make the most effective use of resources avoid duplication by separate."
The anonymous Twitter accounts from which the bomb threats originated were suspended, although screen grabs were widely circulated online. On Saturday, Steve White, of the Police Federation, said the problem was "unpoliceable" and more needed to be done by social media organisations.
He told BBC Breakfast: "The organisations that run these social media platforms probably need to take a long, hard look, they need to take some responsibility.
"It's much like when you go into a shop - there are prevention measures within shops, whether it be security guards or things locked away that you can't get to, which is going to prevent crime, and I think social media sites need to think long and hard about being able to prevent it from happening in the first place. Crime has completely changed. Internet crime and e-crime, including the kind of trolling that we've seen this week, is hugely on the rise. Members of the public don't really understand what to do about it as well, so it goes unreported.
"We can't possibly deal with every single comment that someone doesn't like on these social media platforms, but I think the Government's got to take a long, hard look at resources and have got to understand that there is a changing face of crime in this country, and the police service needs to adapt to that and the resources need to be there to do it."
Criado-Perez, 29, said: "While I'm pleased they're listening, it's taken Twitter a week to come up with this. Twitter's 'report abuse' button on the iPhone application goes through to the old reporting form - what we're looking for is an overhaul of the system which sits behind the button.
"The current process is lengthy, complicated and impossible to use if you're under sustained attack like I have been. Right now, all the emphasis is on the victim, often under intense pressure, to report rather than for Twitter to track down the perpetrator and stop them.
"I am, of course, pleased that they are taking on new staff. The hard facts are that this will take time, investment and properly trained and paid staff - but it's crucial they get this right."