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Twitter CEO’s Leaked Memo: “We Suck at Dealing With Abuse and Trolls”

#Confirmed

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In the summer of 2013, when feminist critic Lindy West was receiving near-constant online rape threats for her stance on male comedians making rape jokes, one particularly virulent troll stole her deceased father’s identity to harass West over Twitter. Last January, West shared her ensuing interactions with her harasser in an incredible This American Life episode and over on The Guardian–and it seems like someone at Twitter was listening.

Judging from an internal memo obtained by The Verge, West’s article about her experiences actually had a profound impact on morale at Twitter, with one employee quoting her in a Twitter forum last Monday:

A must read in its own right about cyberbullying. One section suggests Twitter can just do more.

“I’m aware that Twitter is well within its rights to let its platform be used as a vehicle for sexist and racist harassment. But, as a private company – just like a comedian mulling over a rape joke, or a troll looking for a target for his anger – it could choose not to. As a collective of human beings, it could choose to be better.”

In response, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo took personal responsibility for failing abused users:

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.

In a follow-up memo sent later that night, Costolo clarified:

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.

Hopefully Costolo’s words will actually lead to tangible changes in user experience. In the meantime, it’s encouraging to see that the kind of work West does isn’t just incurring the wrath of trolls—sometimes the right people wind up listening, too.

(image via Cali4beach on Flickr)

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