Twitter CEO Secretly Forced Censorship Of Abusive Tweets During Obama Q&A: Report

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (Image: AP Photo / Michel Euler)
Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (Image: AP Photo / Michel Euler)

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo secretly ordered employees to create an algorithm to filter out abusive and hateful language during a company-sponsored Q&A with President Obama in 2015 according to a Buzzfeed report.

The story cites one former senior Twitter employee who alleges Costolo ordered a team of employees to build a new algorithm, feed it thousands of examples of abusive and harassing tweets, then deploy it to filter out abusive language sent to the President during his Q&A at Twitter.

A different source said individuals from Twitter’s media partnerships team also manually censored tweets because the algorithm was inconsistent and couldn’t be solely relied on.


Costolo’s decision to create the algorithm was reportedly “kept from senior company employees” for fear that they would object the decision. Until this decision was made, Twitter had taken a hard stance on the freedom of speech. The company even published a blog post titled “The Tweets Must Flow” in 2011 reiterating its position.

“We don’t always agree with the things people choose to tweet,” co-founder Biz Stone said in the blog post, “but we keep the information flowing irrespective of any view we may have about the content.”

So much has changed since then. Costolo and his successor Jack Dorsey have publicly admitted Twitter needs to do a better job of curbing abuse on the social network. “No one deserves to be the target of abuse on Twitter,” Dorsey said during a recent call with investors. “We need to do better.”

This year, Twitter has been outright aggressive about curtailing abuse on the network. The company permanently banned conservative media celebrity Milo Yiannopolous earlier this year for allegedly coordinating a sexist and racist Twitter attack against “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones.


We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment and will update if we receive one.

Update: Costolo commented on Twitter:


Update: Twitter released a statement in response to the Buzzfeed report:

In response to today’s BuzzFeed story on safety, we were contacted just last night for comment and obviously had not seen any part of the story until we read it today. We feel there are inaccuracies in the details and unfair portrayals but rather than go back and forth with BuzzFeed, we are going to continue our work on making Twitter a safer place. There is a lot of work to do but please know we are committed, focused, and will have updates to share soon.



Technology editor at Gizmodo.

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I don’t know why this should be a problem.

Forums should be allowed to determine the tone of their events and enforce standards...