Twitter’s reputation as a hotbed for harassment and abuse may have helped lose it two potential buyers.
Bloomberg is reporting that Disney chose not to pursue an acquisition of the ailing social network in part because the bullying and behaviour of some of its users might damage the entertainment company’s image.
The news comes shortly after another report, this one via CNBC’s Jim Cramer, that Salesforce was also put off by Twitter’s endemic troll problem.
The enterprise company’s CEO Marc Beniofff said that Twitter was “not the right fit,” but Cramer was more damning: “What’s happened is, a lot of the bidders are looking at people with lots of followers and seeing the hatred,” he said. “I know that the haters reduce the value of the company … I know that Salesforce was very concerned about this notion.”
Twitter has grappled with the problem of abusive behaviour on its platform for years. In a leaked memo from February 2015, then-CEO Dick Costolo said that “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.” And it’s a problem that hasn’t gone away: During Twitter’s July 2016 earnings call, current CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey told analysts: “We haven’t been good enough at [dealing with abuse], and we must do better.”
The social network has been working on technical solutions to tackle the issue — but has come under fire for appearing not to respond as vigorously to complaints of abuse and harassment as it does to other problematic content like copyright infringement.
It now looks like the abuse problem is no longer just a nightmare for its direct targets — it’s also causing headaches for Twitter’s financial prospects.
Twitter’s stock jumped in recent weeks on reports it was in acquisition talks with multiple companies — but Google, Salesforce, and Twitter, the main suitors, have all since backed out.
According to Bloomberg, trolling isn’t the only reason Disney opted against trying to buy Twitter. There were also questions around its size and profitability, for example. But Disney is one of the most powerful and well-regarded brands on Earth — being tied to a social network where a black actress was hounded off the platform by racists for having the temerity to star in a remake of “Ghostbusters” might be a hard sell to investors.
Former engineering manager Leslie Miley told BuzzFeed News in August that the company did not follow up on potential solutions if they damaged the site’s growth. “I did see a lot of decisions being made in terms of growth when it came to how to handle abuse, which I get,” she said. “But on the other side, if there’s a trash fire burning in your front yard, saying you don’t want to call the fire department because you don’t want to get the house wet is not really a sensical thing.”
This strategy might have made sense to Twitter executives during the company’s boom years — avoid doing anything that might hinder growth! But now that growth is flatlining, the company is struggling to turn a profit, and the decision not to be more proactive about abuse seems to be coming back to haunt it.