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Twitter wants to ‘increase the health of public conversation’

Jack Dorsey said there needs to be a proactive approach to removing toxic content.
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Chris Wattie / Reuters

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Twitter doesn't only want to be more transparent about the toxic content on its site, it also wants to be more proactive about removing it altogether. Speaking to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce today, as part of a hearing titled "Twitter: Transparency and Accountability," CEO Jack Dorsey said that his company's singular objective is to "increase the health of public conversation." But he said this isn't just about spotting and removing abusive content like harassment, or blocking suspicious accounts. It's also about doing so in a timely, more proactive manner. As it stands, Dorsey said, Twitter relies heavily on users reporting others' bad behavior and that simply needs to change.

Dorsey addressed the topic when several members of the US House of Representatives brought up a tweet with a picture threatening late Arizona Senator's John McCain daughter, Meghan, which took hours to be removed from the site. "We were slow to act, the tweet was up for 5 hours but it was way too long," he said. "Our current model works to remove content based on [user reports], but we don't believe we should put the burden of reporting content on the victim. We need to build algorithms that can recognize these issues before a human can."

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Naturally, Dorsey said Twitter doesn't "feel great about this," and that the company can't use its scale as an excuse. Dorsey said efforts to clean up Twitter will likely lead to the removal of many accounts, highlighting that Wall Street probably won't appreciate that, but he views these as necessary steps to create the perfect "digital public square" for everyone "There's a perception we wont act because it's not an incentive," he said, "but we see increasing health as a growth factor, not short-term... long-term."

One of the most interesting parts of the hearing was when Rep. McKinley (R-WV) showed Dorsey recent tweets that were illegally selling drugs, such as cocaine. "I'd be ashamed if I were you," McKinley told Dorsey, to which he replied, "I agree with you. This is unacceptable." By the end of the hearing, as pointed out by the committee's chairman Rep. Walden (R-OR), the account responsible for those tweets had been removed.

"Your team has been at work," Walden said. "We appreciate that."

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