Twitter's Boss Admits They "Suck" at Something

February 5th 2015

Alicia Lutes

This just in: people on the Internet are mean! Of course it's not all bad news bears when it comes to the glories of the world wide web, but on Twitter it's quite easy to forget, thanks to the trolls. Which is why the CEO of the platform has copped to their inability to deal with it.

In fact, Dick Costolo said — and I quote — "We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls."

In a memo obtained by The Verge, Costolo's displeasure at the company's shortcomings was firm, frank, and largely refreshing. "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's comments were not without prompting, but were a direct response to Lindy West's recent documentation — for This American Life and The Guardian — of her own experiences with abuse on Twitter (because god forbid a fat feminist woman exist in the world how DARE she). When prompted by an employee concerned with Twitter's role in the matter, Costolo was quick to shoulder all of the blame.

"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."

Costolo went on to reiterate that this is a "PERSONAL responsibility," insisting that real talk about how people conduct themselves on their platform is not simply 'the way things are.'

"We HAVE to be able to tell each other the truth," Costolo explained, "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."

But what, exactly, can be done? With millions of users and the more ferocious of abusers out there able to reassert themselves with relative ease on the site, it feels like an exercise in futility. But there's got to be something, right? Maybe an algorithm that targets and mutes those that use hateful speech (though that seems easily fallible)? Or a team of people reading every reported tweet (which admittedly sounds like a drag)? Or is automatic banning from the platform itself the only answer, even if it sounds like a recipe for disaster on the retaliatory front (agitated troll-types are terrifying).

What do you think is the best way for Twitter to handle its abuse and troll problem?