Twitter CEO admits 'we suck at dealing with trolls,' vows to fix it

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has admitted that "we suck with dealing at trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years," according to an internal memo obtained by The Verge. He added that the problem has caused "core user after core user" to flee the platform and took personal responsibility. Though Twitter has suffered from issues around abuse and trolling for years -- with the recent GamerGate abuse of Anita Sarkeesian being just one egregious example -- the apparent breaking point for Costolo was a recent Guardian story by feminist writer Lindy West. In it, she talked about her interview on This American Life with a troll who assumed the identity of her beloved, deceased father on Twitter.

In the past, it's been an arduous chore to report abuse, and Twitter has made a feeble effort to fix the issue so far. In 2013, it added a "report abuse" button to its Android and iOS apps, but that was only after a petition gathered nearly 150,000 signatures. The button was also widely considered to be ineffective by critics, particularly after Robin Williams' daughter Zelda was harassed on Twitter following his death.

Twitter also introduced new tools last December to make it even easier to report threats of violence and other issues. But that hasn't put a noticeable dent in the problem either, as Sarkeesian herself recently posted a mass of horrific tweets that she received in just a single week, including threats of violence (below).

Another reason it's hard to check Twitter abuse is that accounts are merely linked to email addresses -- when trolls are banned, all they have to do is change to another one. In addition, determined users can mask their IDs using VPNs or Tor. The only recourse for harassed users is to block trolls one by one, a time-consuming chore that causes many to leave the social network in frustration. Given that, it's not clear what new strategies Twitter is planning to combat the abuse, which is now seen as having reached a critical threshold.

However, in two separate memos (below) Costolo said Twitter would work "night and day (to)... start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them."

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.


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.


[Image credit: Associated Press]