Twitter CEO admits it ‘sucks at dealing with abuse’

In an internal memo sent company-wide to all Twitter employees, CEO Dick Costolo said what everyone who’s been tweeted a dick pic or told to go kill themselves has known for years: that Twitter is really, really bad at dealing with trolls.

Written in response to This American Life contributor Lindy West’s story of a troll impersonating her dead father on the social network, the memo discusses Costolo’s frustration with the company’s inability to deal with trolls, and what he and Twitter staff can do to correct it:

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.

Costolo later sent a follow-up message clarifying further:

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.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time Twitter has publicly addressed its cyberbullying problem. In December, the company improved its lengthy system for reporting harassment, streamlining the process to make it shorter and simpler and allowing people who were not targets of abuse to report it more easily. And in November, Twitter partnered up with advocacy group Women, Action, and the Media (WAM) to address online harassment of women.

That said, Twitter’s efforts to amend its cyberbullying problem have largely been perceived as a reaction to high-profile victims getting chased off Twitter, rather than the general issue of cyberbullying in itself. Back in August, for instance, when Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda was chased off Twitter by trolls, Twitter was quick to make a contrite public statement addressing the situation and promising it would improve its policies.

While on one hand, it’s great that these stories have brought the company’s attention to the issue of cyberbullying, it’s a little disheartening that public figures must complain to bring Twitter’s attention to the problem. Meanwhile, there are millions of regular men and women who are bullied and harassed on the platform on a daily basis.  

But now that the CEO of Twitter itself has come forward and claimed full responsibility for the company’s ineffectiveness at dealing with cyberbullies, it looks like Twitter might very well make some changes after all. Now if only Costolo would make such a powerful statement on the record, as Twitter has yet to publicly comment on the leaked memo.

H/T The Verge | Photo by Fernando Alfonso III 

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.