Twitter CEO Admits “We Suck At Dealing With Abuse And Trolls”

Image courtesy of Tom Raftery

Because it’s so easy to set up a new Twitter account and users don’t have to share any info that would immediately identify them in the real world, the social media platform is overflowing with fake accounts and users who harass others while hiding behind screen names. It’s a well-known problem with Twitter, but one that the company has done little to acknowledge beyond making vague promises. But recently leaked e-mails show that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is fully aware of the issue.

The Verge acquired internal e-mails at Twitter in which Costolo is candid about his company’s inability to deal with harassment and other unacceptable behavior.

“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years,” wrote Costolo in response to an employee’s question about what could be done to curb bullying on Twitter. “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.”

Costolo says he’s “frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue” since he took over as CEO from Twitter co-founder Evan Williams in 2010.

“There’s no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front,” he writes. “It’s nobody else’s fault but mine, and it’s embarrassing.”

The CEO makes promises that the company has plans to combat the problem, but doesn’t go into specifics.

“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,” he writes, without providing details as to how this may actually happen.

As we’ve noted before, the only ways in which Twitter could cut down on trolls is by making alterations to core policies that also make the platform useful to legitimate users.

You can’t take away anonymity, as there are countless Twitter users who rely on the platform for a safe outlet where they can express statements and release information they wouldn’t be comfortable or able to if their real names were attached.

Twitter may be able to do a better job of policing trolls, but with hundreds of millions of users there is no possible way it could afford to hire enough humans to monitor every complaint. Automated flagging and banning systems can easily be gamed so that users who don’t like the opinions of a certain account can have that person blocked for behavior that isn’t abusive.

A follow-up response from Costolo demonstrates that he truly does take this issue seriously, but again fails to directly address ways in which Twitter can handle trolls without fundamentally altering the nature of the platform.

“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,” he writes. “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.”