By its own boss’s admission, Twitter “suck at dealing with abuse and trolls”.
Now Dick Costolo has shed a little more light on how the company plans to change that.
Twitter is planning to shift “the cost of dealing with harassment” on to the people accused of that harassment, not on the people who endure it, said Costolo in an interview with the New York Times.
“Some people believe that Twitter hasn’t taken the issue seriously because harassment isn’t a form of physical harm – they’re just tweets. No, that’s not true at all. We’ve always taken it seriously,” he said.
“We’ve drawn a line on what constitutes harassment and abuse. 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.”
The firm has not yet given any details of how it plans to accomplish this.
Costolo admitted that the internal “we suck” memo had been uncharacteristically blunt, but claimed it reflected his determination to tackle the abuse that has fuelled growing criticism of Twitter’s policies in this area.
“I meant what I said. One of the reasons I was so blunt about it was that I wanted to really send a wake-up call to the company that we’re going to get a lot more aggressive about it, and it’s going to start right now,” he said.
Shifting the cost of dealing with harassment onto the accused harassers will be welcomed by people who have been targeted for such abuse. Even so, it is fraught with pitfalls for Twitter, if its new policy is not well thought out.
For example, an overly-automated process might be open to groups of people ganging together to report someone whose views they disagree with in an effort to get their account suspended; a barrage of harassment reports could become a new form of harassment.
Avoiding this will require Twitter to continue increasing its investment in human moderation – more costs for the company, but vital for the overall health of its community.
Costolo’s comments indicate his company hopes to draw the line fairly between harassment and spirited disagreements.
“I may have a right to say something, but I don’t have a right to stand in your living room and scream it into your ear five times in a row,” he said, while warning that some reports of harassment turn out to be “fairly rational political discourse”, which Twitter is keen to protect.
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th February 2015 12.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010