Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admits that his billion-dollar company “suck at dealing with abuse”, and admits that online ‘trolls’ are costing Twitter users.
“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years,” Costolo wrote in an internal memo which has since been leaked online.
“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,” he added. “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.”
Mr. Costolo’s comments come in response to a recent story by journalist Lindy West, who became victim of a crude online bullying tryst on Twitter when trolls created an account of her now-deceased father and used it to send abusive comments to West.
In a follow-up comment later in the thread, Costolo says: “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.”
Costolo continued: “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.”
As part of Twitter’s new initiative to combat trolls and cyber-bullying, users are now able to specifically report people for ‘doxing’ – the practice of researching and revealing a target’s personal information without consent, including posting phone numbers, home addresses, credit card details, and other unauthorised personal information.
To clamp down on repeated harassment and anonymous posting, users who are temporarily banned from Twitter will now have to verify their account using a valid email adress and phone number.
“Overall, we now review five times as many user reports as we did previously, and we have tripled the size of the support team focused on handling abuse reports,” the company’s Vice President of User Services, Tina Bhatnagar, wrote in an online statement on Saturday.
“These investments in tools and people allow us to handle more reports of abuse with greater efficiency. So while we review many more reports than ever before, we’ve been able to significantly reduce the average response time to a fraction of what it was, and we see this number continuing to drop,” she added.
Twitter has made headlines across the past few months over its bullying and abusive culture, especially among many high-profile users. One such incident was a targeted attack on women – the ongoing #gamergate controversy – which has seen several female journalists targeted with abuse, harassment, violent threats, and leaks of private information.
In November last year, Twitter joined forces with not-for-profit organisation WAM (Women, Action & The Media) to try and combat online bullying towards women.
“I believe that we haven’t yet drawn that line to put the cost of dealing with harassment on those doing the harassing. It shouldn’t be the person who’s being harassed who has to do a lot of work,” said Costolo.
Twitter’s advancement toward combating online bullying is a step in the right direction, and it is definitely a wonderful positive for the company and for the millions of users who engage with Twitter – and social media in general – each day.
But can more be done to help the spread of online bullying and trolls? As a society, what can we do to help stop this rise in online abuse and harassment?
If you have had a personal experience with online bullying or ‘trolls’, please feel free to comment and share your story either below or on our Facebook page.