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Twitter's CEO: "We Suck at Dealing With Abuse and There's No Excuse"

Illustration for article titled Twitters CEO: We Suck at Dealing With Abuse and Theres No Excuse

Twitter's long had a problem with trolls hurling abuse and harassing other users. Now, its CEO Dick Costolo has admitted how big the problem is, accepting that the blame lies squarely at his feet and declaring that the company will make dramatic changes to help stamp it out.

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In a series of leaked internal memos obtained by The Verge, Costolo wrote:

On Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 8:35 PM, Dick Costolo wrote:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years. It's no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.

I'm frankly ashamed of how poorly we've dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It's absurd. There's no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It's nobody else's fault but mine, and it's embarrassing.

We're going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.

Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.

@dickc

He later followed up the message, reiterating that he takes personal responsibility for the issues:

On Tue, Feb 3, 2015 at 12:45 PM, Dick Costolo wrote:

Let me be very very clear about my response here. I take PERSONAL responsibility for our failure to deal with this as a company. I thought i did that in my note, so let me reiterate what I said, which is that I take personal responsibility for this. I specifically said "It's nobody's fault but mine"

We HAVE to be able to tell each other the truth, and the truth that everybody in the world knows is that we have not effectively dealt with this problem even remotely to the degree we should have by now, and that's on me and nobody else. So now we're going to fix it, and I'm going to take full responsibility for making sure that the people working night and day on this have the resources they need to address the issue, that there are clear lines of responsibility and accountability, and that we don't equivocate in our decisions and choices.

Dick

The comments come in response to questions about recent harassment of Lindy West—which included trolls creating a Twitter account for her then recently-deceased father. Of course, Twitter has frequently been criticized for how it handles online safety. In the past it's made efforts to make it easier to deal with harassment, though clearly they haven't been as successful as Costolo would like.

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What changes the company will make in reality remain to be seen. But it sure sounds like Costolo is taking it seriously. [The Verge]

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DISCUSSION

captaincupholder
Captain Cupholder

Wow. It's extremely rare you see such blunt, unequivocal language like this coming from a CEO about how their company is failing at something. Or is it? Obviously we tend to be a lot more privy to public announcements, press releases, etc. where their job is to be much more positive - and vague, tbh. Maybe the rare part of it is more the CEO taking "PERSONAL responsibility" for twitter's failures here. Or again, maybe that's just lip service. idk.

The link within the article has some good thoughts. Just a couple things that jumped out to me:

To prevent people from creating disposable accounts willy-nilly to troll people:

For example, the same IP address should not be allowed to register multiple accounts repeatedly. Before a new account can be created, the user should also have to validate their account through a valid phone number (which once again should be limited to the number of validations allowed

I think that'd be a huge step, and I'd like to see twitter do that, or something a lot like it, right away.

OTOH, there was this part, on the appeal of anonymity on twitter:

Twitter's most trite critique in its early days was some form of no one cares what you had for breakfast, but that sounds absurd looking at what the site has become. Twitter isn't about you and your trivial ups and down (at least, not if you're using it right). It's a storytelling tool. And there's nothing else quite like it, largely because real, actual users and their real, actual personas are only half the story.

This is me in a nutshell. I've got a twitter account through a pseudonym, and most of my tweets tend to be jokes (that are hilarious, guys, I swear!). Rarely - if ever - do I post anything that's actually going on in my life; it's just a platform for absurdity. Here's one of my favorite examples of this (although I wish I could claim it, this one's not mine):

Maybe it was "based on a true story," but I think that's besides the point.

And Rob Delaney (as himself) is an absolute master at trolling companies, celebs, and politicians. There's thousands of other examples you can point to.

And then yes, this is worth considering too:

[P]erhaps most importantly, Twitter's more than just a means for lighthearted commentary. It has the potential to effect total social upheaval. Privacy and online anonymity are a big deal to users in places like the United States, but those issues become orders of magnitude more important in countries with oppressive regimes.

So when it comes down to it, I don't envy twitter's leadership right now. People are unhappy w/ how little they've done to combat trolling, but it would take so little to alienate and piss off millions of its current users even more. Just really seems like a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation.