Meerkat and Periscope go troll-hunting

Meerkat and Periscope go troll-hunting

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Before Suzanne Nguyen starts her broadcasts on Meerkat, a live streaming application where she ranks among the top 25 most influential users, she likes to lay out the ground rules: be respectful, have a fun conversation and don’t engage in “troll-like behaviors.”

Unfortunately, some of her viewers don’t listen.

Since joining Meerkat more than three weeks ago, Nguyen, a social media consultant based in Sydney, has had commenters curse at her and ask about the color of her bra. On Periscope, a similar service owned by Twitter, Nguyen says she has received even more offensive comments, including: “Show me your tits!”

The promise of Meerkat and Periscope is to broadcast and experience a powerful real-time window into the lives of others. Yet, the two applications can also serve as powerful platforms for real-time trolling that is quite literally forced in the broadcaster’s face.

The offensive comments can take the form of sexist remarks like Nguyen received, threatening remarks or simply spam, all of which is similar to what one finds on Twitter, but without the same protections that Twitter has recently tried to put in place.

In the absence of basic blocking features on Meerkat, Nguyen and others embraced a makeshift solution: they started tweeting the Twitter names of trolls along with the hashtag #911MK to alert the team at Meerkat to the worst offenders. So far it seems to be having the intended effect, but Nguyen admits “the hashtag could be abused.”

Less trolling that one might expect

“Like any platform, we’ve seen some trolling, but it’s less than one might expect,” says Ryan Cooley, Meerkat’s community manager.

He touts the creative efforts from users like Nguyen, but admits it shouldn’t fall entirely on the community to “self-regulate.” For that reason, Meerkat is planning to introduce a feature with its next update that gives broadcasters control over who comments on their streams.

Periscope, similarly, appeared to acknowledge the troll problem this week with an update that lets streamers opt to only allow people they follow to comment on their broadcasts. The service also made it easier to block users in the comment — a feature that was available previously, but required a cumbersome number of steps.

That more of these features were not available for either application — and especially Periscope — at launch has shocked some, considering that Twitter’s CEO has been outspoken this year about the need to improve its track record on abuse. Twitter has recently made it easier to report abuse and block users, introduced a quality filter and grown its staff to handle these incidents.

“If you’re going to launch something new, why wouldn’t you build in some of the safeguards that you understand are necessary and valuable for a huge percentage of users?” says Soraya Chemaly, a feminist activist and organizer behind the Safety and Free Speech coalition. “In so many new launches, that ability to determine safeguards is almost considered peripheral, not central.”

Twitter declined to provide official comment for this story. A source close to Twitter stressed that Periscope’s team operates independently of the social network and therefore has its own approach and guidelines for dealing with abuse. That said, it is an issue both Twitter and Periscope are said to take seriously.

The team at Meerkat, on the other hand, believed that because the app was initially built on Twitter, people would mostly interact with users they already deal with on Twitter so “you wouldn’t have to deal with trolls nearly as much,” Cooley says. That said, he admits Meerkat was “aware” of Twitter’s existing issues with trolling.

After Twitter cut off Meerkat’s access to its social graph, shortly before releasing Periscope, Meerkat added better tools to discover streams, which has had the unintended effect of adding to the troll problem. “Now it’s up to us,” Cooley says.

Despite the offensive comments that Nguyen, the social media consultant, has seen directed at her and others on the live streaming services, she doesn’t feel it’s bad enough to stop using them. “Twitter’s worse,” she says by way of explanation. “I have found more troll behavior on Twitter.”

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