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Twitter Needs to Protect Everyone, Not Just the Famous

Last night (June 19) in a small first step towards a brighter future, Twitter issued a permanent ban on alt-right media pundit/troll Milo Yiannopoulos, preventing him from using the social-media service again. This move came two days after the online provocateur directed his Twitter followers to sling bigoted tweets at actress Leslie Jones, star of the new Ghostbusters remake.

Credit: Ga Fullner/Shutterstock

(Image credit: Ga Fullner/Shutterstock)

In its statement following the ban, Twitter declared that "People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others."

Twitter did the right thing, but it's got to do far more work on a much wider scale to combat the trolls and abusers who use its service to harass others.

MORE: How to Report Bullying and Abuse Online

Jones is famous for her breakout performances on Saturday Night Live and her starring role in the reboot of Ghostbusters, but Yiannopoulos, whose Twitter handle was @Nero, and his acolytes spent their time comparing the African-American actress to an ape and calling her ugly. Rather than shirk from this hate, Jones reported Yiannopoulos and posted the worst tweets sent to her, to shame her attackers.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey reached out to Jones, asking that she contact him via Twitter's private Direct Message feature, after she asked the service set up some guidelines to prevent harassment. Hours later, the hateful tweets got so out of hand that Jones tweeted that suggested she was leaving Twitter. That was late Monday night, and Twitter pulled the plug on Yiannopoulos Tuesday night.

Hateful and nonsensical statements are nothing new for Yiannopoulos, who once held a sign that read "Rape Culture and Harry Potter: Both Fantasy," acted as a public spokesperson for the GamerGate movement and bizarrely referred to Donald Trump as "Daddy." Earlier this year Yiannopoulos lost his Verified check mark, which led his supporters — he had around 337,000 followers at the time of his ban — to tweet the #JeSuisMilo hashtag.

While banning the leader of a mob is good, and Twitter may also taking actions against his more abusive followers, this is not enough. What's to stop Yiannopoulos from starting a new account? Did they ban every IP address he's ever used? And what about the everyday people targeted by hateful Twitter trolls?

As Zoe Quinn, a game developer and target of the GamerGate movement, tweeted last night, Milo abused her and her family online for years. Twitter stayed silent during that fiasco, and the site's current harassment and report tools are notoriously ineffective. A lot is made of Twitter's inability to build and retain active users, so even on that base, self-serving level, the company needs to develop strong tools that it can make available to all users victimized by harassment.

Looking ahead, it's good to know that Twitter agrees with me that its actions are far from enough. In its statement, the company also said that "We know many people believe we have not done enough to curb this type of behavior on Twitter. We agree."

Words are not enough right now, however. The company needs to offer more solutions.