Twitter is suffering from growing pains. Sure, it seemed like a ridiculous idea when it first launched, but as it turned out, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Why remains something of a mystery to me, but then, who cares what I think. Old guys are certainly not the barometer of new technology.
But then, we’re not entirely out of the loop either. That Twitter had complaints coming in about the tone and content of some users has long been a known issue. Per that bastion of deep thought, The Verge, it appears that Twitter’s CEO now admits the error of his ways and will take up arms to end it.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is taking personal responsibility for his platform’s chronic problems with harassment and abuse, telling employees that he is embarrassed for the company’s failures and would soon be taking stronger action to eliminate trolls. He said problems with trolls are driving away the company’s users. “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years,” Costolo wrote in an internal memo obtained by The Verge. “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.”
Trolls are easy to spot. They’re the people who annoy us. Then again, we’re the people who annoy them. But Costolo’s concern is for his “core users,” and he’s kind enough to tell us who they are:
Costolo’s comments came in response to a question on an internal forum about a recent story by Lindy West, a frequent target of harassment on Twitter. Among other things, West’s tormentors created a Twitter account for her then recently deceased father and made cruel comments about her on the service; West recently shared her story on This American Life and The Guardian.
He goes on to explain what he plans to do about it.
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.
Examples offered at The Verge make it all very clear:
Just last week, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian documented the harassment she received on Twitter from January 20th to the 26th. You’ll have to scroll for awhile before you hit the end of tweets containing gendered insults, victim blaming, incitement to suicide, sexual violence, and rape and death threats. Sarkessian was a top target for Gamergate predators because of her criticism of the way women are portrayed in video games, and her post shows that the vile intimidation campaign against her continues unabated.
There are no First Amendment implications to Twitter’s choice. It’s a private company, and fully entitled to limit its platform to any speech of its choosing. If it’s picked sides in Gamergate, so be it. That’s its prerogative.
And in anticipation of those inclined to argue that the internet has become the “town square” of the future, so vital as the site of public discussion that it should be subject to the same free speech protections as governmental action, buy up all the shares of Twitter and make it into whatever you want it to be.
But until you do, it’s owned by other people, run by other people, and private companies in America aren’t required to run themselves in accordance with your desired way of using them. You may liken them to the town square, but they’re private property. Get off their lawn.
And this goes deeper than kicking off those who say vile things to Anita Sarkeesian. As Venture Beat notes, Twitter is also on board with the anti-revenge porn crowd.
Twitter said last month that it’s fed up with the negative tones and bad behavior on its site, and this month it’s taking another step to change things.
At 6PM Eastern Time Wednesday it introduced new language on its Twitter Rules page to prohibit the posting of stolen nude images and revenge porn.
This new verbiage appears in the “Privacy” section of its Rules page: “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent,” the rules now read.
Sounds great. Just one problem. How will Twitter know what’s what? Will there be roving bands of prune-faced school marms dispensing their own brand of vengeance against twits that offend their politics and sensibilities? Silly as this seems, that’s likely to be the case. A button to press to alert Twitter of a mean person, an image that they don’t like, a twit that hurt someone’s feelings, and the twitter gods will disappear that user.
Who gets to press that button? Twitter’s “core users.” We already know from Costolo who they are.
So Twitter has picked its side and, for those of us who are not allies, there is a good chance that we won’t be long for the Twitters. I would imagine that Church Ladies will be busy deleting twitterers with delight, filled with the awesome power of recreating the twitter world in their own image.
What does this mean for those of us disinclined to toe the Twitter party line? It means the time is ripe for a new twitter, a new town square, because the old one will offer little more than an echo chamber of hand-wringing and whining.
Remember, liberals hate conservatives, feminists hate everyone, MRAs are vicious jerks, SWJs are self-righteous prigs, and then there’s race and religion.
All we need to do to achieve beautiful harmony is cleanse Twitter of all the people we hate. And to those of you who remain on the twitters, have fun!
Kashmir Hill, writing for Fusion, gathered more specifics from a Twitter employee:
I asked Twitter if there was a “Weiner exception.” How would this apply to a newsworthy intimate photo, such as the bulge-portrait then-Congressman Anthony Weiner accidentally tweeted of himself which went viral and eventually led to his resignation from office? The Twitter employee said there will be a “newsworthiness exception.” So if your bulge or boobs are a front page story in the newspaper, Twitter may not take them down.
The policy also requires something that other sites (like Reddit) policing for revenge porn don’t: the takedown request must be made by the person whose personal photos/information are being disseminated without authorization. This will hopefully deter some potential abuse.
Damn, that Cushing is a trusting sort of guy. Who knew?
Mary Anne Franks, the law prof currently engaged in crafting questionable revenge porn laws, says Twitter isn’t doing enough.
Franks, for one, thinks it’s problematic that bystanders can’t report the posting of explicit images of others. “Every minute private sexual material is available increases the number of people who can view it, download it, and forward it, so even if Twitter responds quickly to complaints, it may be too late to stop the material from going viral,” she said by email.
What Franks views as problematic is actually a practical safeguard. If you give removal power to everyone, it becomes a plaything for abusers.
But nobody is going to abuse this. Nope. Won’t happen.
Then again, combined with the anti-harassment prong (since these things all go together, even if we discuss them separately), there seems to be some huge cracks in the façade of fairness. Oh, and while Twitter investigates a takedown request under their anti-revenge porn rule, the twitterer’s account will be suspended. And if they lose, they can always appeal to twitter.
Again, it’s Twitter’s business, so it can handle it any damn way it pleases, but I am not nearly as sanguine about the impact of this as Tim. As Costolo said, “We’re going to start kicking these people off right and left.” But fairly?