5 Feb 2015

Are Twitter finally taking online trolls seriously?

Twitter chief executive says that the company “sucks at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we’ve sucked at it for years.”

The acknowledgement from Dick Costolo came in an internal memo seen by technology website The Verge, in which he said the company should be embarrassed by the way it handles abuse.

Read more: should internet trolls go to prison?

He wrote: “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.”

Twitter trolls

Mr Costolo’s comments came on an internal forum among Twitter employees, after another member of staff raised the question of what more could be done to tackle online abuse in the wake of writer Lindy West speaking to the Guardian about her experiences.

Ms West received comments and abuse on a daily basis, and internet trolls even created a Twitter account in the name of her deceased father in order to send insults to her. She later decided to confront the troll on a live podcast.

Last year, Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda Williams, left the social platform after being sent disturbing images in the wake of her father’s suicide.

Feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian was threatened with rape, sexual violence and death by Twitter trolls during the Gamergate saga after she criticised the way women are portrayed in video games.

Journalist Caroline Criado-Perez also received rape threats after she voiced her support for the campaign to introduce Jane Austen as the new face of the £10 note. Twitter users Isabella Sorley and John Nimmo admitted sending the messages to Ms Criado-Perez and both were jailed last year.

Abuse button

Last year Twitter moved to make the task of reporting abuse easier. An update saw the process streamlined and fewer steps required in order to report abuse – it used to require filling in a nine-part questionnaire but can now be done in a few steps. Twitter has said that more tools are on the way to further improve the service.

Mr Costolo continued: “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.”