Twitter says it has “meaningful updates” in the works that will tackle its endemic abuse problem — and they will be rolling out in November.
On Thursday, the social networking company announced its third-quarter earnings. It beat analysts expectations for revenues, and earnings per share — but also confirmed it is laying off 9% of its global workforce.
In an accompanying letter to shareholders, Twitter alludes to a number of changes that are coming to the platform — including new safety features.
The social network is struggling right now. It’s struggling to grow, it can’t turn a profit, and it’s users are complaining about a serious and persistent harassment and abuse problem on the platform.
Twitter has grappled with the issue for a long time. In a leaked memo from February 2015, then-CEO Dick Costolo said “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, the company’s current CEO, cofounder Jack Dorsey, told analysts the company hadn’t “been good enough” at dealing with abuse “and we must do better.”
Twitter’s critics have also accused the company of responding less vigorously to complaints about abuse than those concerning other problematic content like copyright infringement, and for appearing to prioritise minor product tweaks over more significant overhauls that could protect users.
In a damning quote, former engineering manager Leslie Miley alleged to 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,” he 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.”
Twitter has reportedly been trying to sell itself recently (something CEO Jack Dorsey refused to address on the post-earnings call with analysts). And rumour has it, both Disney and Salesforce decided not to buy it — in part — because of the social network’s unsavoury reputation.
If true, it means that harassment is something Twitter can’t afford to avoid any longer — because it’s directly hurting the company’s bottom line.
It’s just a shame it has taken the company this long.
Reached for comment, a Twitter spokesperson directed Business Insider towards an earlier statement from the company on abusive behaviour:
“Hateful conduct, violent threats and targeted harassment have no place on Twitter and we address these issues every day with government, our partners in civil society and our peers in the technology sector. People must feel safe in order to speak freely and there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate. We continue to invest heavily in our safety policies and tools, and we will be rolling out additional improvements to both in the very near future.”
Here’s the section of the letter to shareholders that addresses the coming changes (emphasis ours):
“All the initiatives above are focused on enabling people to consume and express themselves freely; freedom of expression is core to who we are. Everyone on Twitter should feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs and targeted behaviour that harasses or threatens others to silence another person’s voice is unacceptable to us and a violation of our policies.
“For the past few months our team has been working hard to build the most important safety features and updating our safety policies to give people more control over their Twitter experience. Next month, we will be sharing meaningful updates to our safety policy, our product, and enforcement strategy.”
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