Protect your staff from Toronto's terrible Twitter trolls, bosses told

Public transport execs ordered to push back against abuse

Far from gently wading in the cesspool of Twitter, a Canadian arbitration body has told employers they need to actively push back against trolls.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was taken through arbitration by its workers union over the abuse some staff were receiving through the TTC's official Twitter customer service account @TTChelps.

The union asked the company to act when tweets directed at the account were frequently offensive, profane, racist, homophobic and threatening. But the commission basically said there was nothing it could do about it. It also refused to shut down the account, saying that its customers expected it to have a social media presence.

The arbitration panel was not impressed by that line of thinking however, telling the TTC that it has a duty of care to its employees and simply shrugging its shoulders and accepting that people can be needlessly rude and offensive because – you know, Twitter – wasn't enough.

It decided that the TTC had "failed to take all reasonable and practical measures" to protect its employees from the comments. And the panel disagreed with the TTC that it is impossible to regulate what was said over social media, arguing that there were, in fact, a number of steps it could take to offer greater protection.

It then ordered the TTC to develop a new social media policy that incorporated a number of new measures, and stated what some of them should be, including:

  • Actively monitoring the account.
  • Responding to offensive tweets by noting that it does not approve of them.
  • Demanding that users delete any offensive tweets or risk being blocked by the account.
  • Blocking abusive twitter accounts.
  • Seeking Twitter corporate's help where necessary.

Although the ruling only applies directly to the TTC, the decision has already seen of a wave of commentary in Canada over what employers' responsibilities should be for staff working on their corporate social media accounts.

After years of criticism and complaints, last month Twitter finally started taking a more proactive role in pushing back against its needlessly offensive users when it permanently banned high-profile troll Milo Yiannopoulos from the service for encouraging and coordinating racist attacks against actress Leslie Jones.

The dreadful culture of unaccountable abuse that has taken hold on the network has also started hurting the company itself, as more and more users ditch it for other outlets such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

In that sense, the gradual imposition of rules by society itself regarding what is acceptable and what is not will be music to Twitter's ears, and may help provide it with greater impetus to put new tools in place that could limit the amount of abuse carried over its network.

So far there is no clear evidence that the new policy has been imposed. A look at the @TTChelps account in recent days shows little more than announcements of delays and closures and customers complaining about being delayed, with pleasant responses from the TTC apologizing for any inconvenience.

In fact, just the sort of thing that one would expect from a social media account for public transport – which is kind of the point. ®

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