On Thursday, BuzzFeed published a highly critical report about Twitter’s failure to deal with its endemic harassment problem. The social network has “virtually been optimised to accommodate” abuse and hate speech, wrote Charlie Warzel.
Twitter has now shot back in a blog post — but doesn’t identify a single concrete inaccuracy in the report.
“We feel there are inaccuracies in the details and unfair portrayals but rather than go back and forth with BuzzFeed, we are going to continue our work on making Twitter a safer place,” the unattributed statement from the company reads.
“There is a lot of work to do but please know we are committed, focused, and will have updates to share soon.”
Twitter’s response is rather more muted than that of its former CEO, Dick Costolo. Costolo — who the report claims secretly censored abusive tweets directed at President Obama during a question-and-answer on the site — reacted angrily in two tweets.
“Total nonsense and laughably false as anybody who would speak on the record would tell you. Absurd,” he wrote. “Shows a lack of understanding of the very basics of how trust and safety works at Twitter. Sensationalist nonsense.”
Twitter has long been regarded as having a serious problem with harassment and abuse — an issue that was thrown into sharp relief in recent months after “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones was subjected to a torrent of racist and sexist abuse that culminated in the banning of a conservative journalist, Milo Yiannopoulous, from the site. (Disclosure: I previously worked for Yiannopoulous’ tech site The Kernel in 2013.)
Costolo himself has admitted it. In a leaked memo from February 2015, the then-CEO 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.”
But the BuzzFeed report, based off of interviews with “10 high-level former employees,” sheds new light on the inner workings of the company as it grappled with the issue of abuse.
For example, former engineering manager Leslie Miley claimed 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.”
Dick Costolo was more supportive of attempts to moderate and “censor” abusive content than some others at the company, the report alleges. Supposedly, he “secretly” had a team use an algorithmic tool that would censor abusive messages directed at President Obama during a question-and-answer session, with a media team also allegedly manually censoring tweets.
Twitter’s response to BuzzFeed’s report also implies the company believes it was not given sufficient time to respond. “In response to today’s BuzzFeed story on safety, we were contacted just last night for comment and obviously had not seen any part of the story until we read it today,” it read.
BuzzFeed editor Ellen Cushing countered that “we gave Twitter plenty of time to respond. They wouldn’t get on the phone. Their email statement is in our piece.”
Meanwhile, Politico reporter Tony Romm ridiculed Twitter’s claim it did not want to “go back and forth with BuzzFeed.” He tweeted: “So you mean, um, an interview?”
NOW WATCH: Milo Yiannopoulos defends his Leslie Jones tweets: All I did was crack a few jokes about a Hollywood star
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