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Twitter CEO Vows to Fix Trolling Problem

Meghan Coyle |
February 5, 2015 | 12:04 p.m. PST

Web Producer

Some 40 percent of Internet users experience harassment online (Graphic by Meghan Coyle).
Some 40 percent of Internet users experience harassment online (Graphic by Meghan Coyle).
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admits that the company has not been doing enough to combat abuse and trolling on the popular social network. According to The Verge, Costolo told employees in an internal memo, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.” The CEO takes full responsibility and promises to take stronger action to eliminate the cyberbullying that plagues the platform.

This memo came in response to one writer’s story about her frequent harassment on Twitter. Feminist writer Lindy West receives a daily deluge of hate on Twitter and Facebook for her work on everything from body image to rape. The abuse became unbearable when one tormentor created a fake Twitter account for West’s father, who had recently passed away, and tweeted cruel comments about West.

West shared her story on the Jan. 23 episode of This American Life and in a story for The Guardian. She wrote, “I’m aware that Twitter is well within its rights to let its platform be used as a vehicle for sexist and racist harassment. But, as a private company – just like a comedian mulling over a rape joke, or a troll looking for a target for his anger – it could choose not to. As a collective of human beings, it could choose to be better.”

READ MORE: "Cyberbullying: L.A. Schools Work To End Student Harassment"

Costolo is now urging his company to do better. “We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day. 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.”

West is in no way alone. Some 40 percent of people have experienced harassment online, including being called offensive names, purposefully embarrassed, stalked, sexually harassed, physically threatened, and sustained harassment, according to data from The Pew Research Center. Young women are at the most risk for online harassment with one in four women aged 18 to 24 reporting being sexually harassed (compared to only 6 percent of all Internet users).

Twitter has been slow to implement tools that combat harassment. The ability to report abuse on the social network was only implemented in 2013, seven years after the company was founded. This capability was also added in response to a nasty case of harassment targeting feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez, reports The Verge.

READ MORE: "Monica Lewinsky Joins Twitter, Campaigns To End Cyberbullying"

According to USA Today, Twitter came under fire again in August 2014 when Zelda Williams reported receiving abusive messages after the death of her father, Robin Williams. In November, Twitter teamed up with the nonprofit organization Women, Action, & the Media, to specifically address the problem of gender harassment.

As recently as last month, Twitter unveiled new tools to block abusive content. The update not only helps victims flag harassment, it also helps users who are not receiving the abuse to avoid seeing hate tweets. However, trolling is still far from being eliminated. Just last week, feminist Anita Sarkeesian documented one week of Twitter harassment on her Tumblr, and the gendered insults, victim blaming, incitement to suicide, sexual violence, rape and death threats abound.

Related Links

"Can Twitter Stop Harassment?" - The New York Times

"Twitter Unveils New Tools To Block Abusive Messages" - USA Today

"I Harassed My Colleague On Twitter And Here's What Happened" - Time

"In Candid Mea Culpa, Twitter CEO Promises A War On Trolls" - Wired

"Twitter CEO: We Suck At Dealing With Trolls" - The Guardian

Contact Staff Reporter Meghan Coyle here and follow her on Twitter here.



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