Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has frankly admitted that his company has done a terrible job of dealing with trolls and abusers. And he’s promised to do better, declaring that Twitter would “start kicking these people off right and left.”
In a remarkably candid note to concerned staffers, obtained and posted online by The Verge, Costolo was blunt about Twitter’s failure to protect its users from harassers:
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.
He’s got that right.
Costolo went on to accept personal responsibility for this failure:
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.
And he pledged to go after the harassers much more aggressively:
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.
In a followup note, he again took personal responsibility for the problem, and assured staffers that his promise to boot the trolls and harassers would be more than an empty declaration:
[T]he 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.
Let’s hope he lives up to this promise. Facebook made a similar promise to crack down on hate speech in 2013, but hateful sexist and racist material is still posted regularly on that platform with no repercussions.
And everyone who has tried to report harassment and abuse on Twitter knows how hard it is to get Twitter to taken any actions against harassers. And even when harassers’ accounts are banned, the bans are often temporary, while those who are permabanned can simply start up new accounts to continue their harassment and abuse.
Costolo’s notes came in response to a discussion on an internal message board about feminist writer Lindy West’s recent Guardian article and This American Life segment dealing with the harassment she’s gotten on Twitter. Costolo made clear that he’s acutely aware of the media coverage and criticism of Twitter’s lackluster attempts to deal with the trolls who so often turn Twitter into a kind of “hate amplifier.”
In other words, Twitter is responding to this problem because the targets of Twitter harassment and abuse are talking about their experiences publicly.
The “don’t feed the trolls” approach that is so often advocated by those who try to minimize and/or excuse the harassment does not in fact work; indeed, “not feeding” trolls encourages them, by making clear they will face no repercussions for their abusive behavior.
“Don’t feed the trolls” FEEDS THE TROLLS.
Everyone who is legitimately concerned about trolling online owes a debt of gratitude to Lindy West and the numerous other targets of harassment — most of them women — who have spoken up publicly about their experiences, putting themselves at risk of even more harassment.
And we owe a debt of gratitude as well to Jaclyn Friedman and the others at Women, Action and the Media who also put themselves at risk when they stepped forward to assist Twitter in dealing with its harassment problem.
Let’s keep the pressure on Twitter and on other online platforms that have been used as hate amplifiers. That’s the only way to ensure that the people running these platforms actually do anything to curb the hate.