AceNewsDesk – April.20: Twitter responds to harassment questions “Communicating with people you may or may not know in real life just got easier,” says Twitter Senior Software Engineer Nhu Vuong in a blog post announcing a change to Twitter’s direct messaging system. The new feature gives users the ability to receive messages whether the user follows them or not. Vuong used an example of an ice cream shop and a fan to show what’s changed:

“Previously, if you wanted to send a Direct Message to the ice cream shop down the street about how much you love their salted caramel flavor, you’d have to ask them to follow you first. With today’s changes, the ice cream shop can opt to receive Direct Messages from anyone; so you can privately send your appreciation for the salted caramel without any barriers.”

Twitter says the change also tweaks messaging rules “so you can reply to anyone who sends you a Direct Message, regardless of whether or not that person follows you” and adds a new direct-messaging button on profile pages for Android and iPhone. The feature is not automatically enabled; users will have to opt in.

Mashable reports this is just the latest attempt from Twitter to boost user engagement.

“In January, for example, it introduced group direct messages, as well as the ability to share and edit video inside Twitter. And earlier in April, it officially revamped its retweet feature, making it easier for users to plug other people’s tweets and add their own comments.”

But several Twitter users are saying that the change will lead to more online harassment.

We reached out to Twitter with questions about the new policy and how it might affect online harassment. It sent along the following statement via email:

“The changes are intended to make conversation easier, not invite spam. We’ve given the user multiple opportunities to control who messages them.

“The setting that allows users to accept Direct Messages from anyone is optional, users do not have to opt-in to receive direct messages from everyone. Additionally users can turn this setting on and off at their leisure.

“Should a user receive a direct message from someone they do not wish to speak with privately, deleting the message will give the user to end the conversation or delete the message. Ending the conversation prevents the initiator from contacting you in the future. Deleting the message removes the conversation from your inbox. And users cannot be contacted by accounts they have blocked.

“Users have always been able to send direct messages to their followers. What’s new today is that the followers can respond, without first having their follow reciprocated by the person who initiated the conversation.”

Twitter already has an existing protocol to handle abuse on Twitter, and we’ve previously reported on ways Twitter has recently upped its response to online harassment.