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- Twitter claims to be serious about fighting trolls now. For real this time.
Last night, Nitasha Tiku and Casey Newton at the Verge broke news of an internal memo circulated by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. "We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years. It's no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day," it began. After years of inadequate response from the social-media giant, the issue finally came to a head on Monday via an internal forum, in which employee Adrian Cole wrote: "A must read in its own right about cyberbullying. One section suggests Twitter can just do more," then quoted Lindy's follow-up piece in the Guardian:
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.
As many Slog readers already know firsthand, Lindy is frequently, if not daily, subject to an inordinate amount of particularly vile online abuse. In the TAL piece, she told the story of addressing her worst troll ever, who created the Twitter handle PaulWestDunzo, in reference to her recently departed father, and began harassing her from it. After reading a piece she wrote about the ordeal, the troll e-mailed her, confessed, apologized, and ceased his torment, even donating $50 to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where her father had been treated.
Lindy's interview with him is a fascinating look into the mentality of online harassment, especially the kind directed toward women, who receive a disproportionate amount of it. In his initial e-mail to Lindy, the troll wrote "I think my anger toward you stems from your happiness with your own being. It offended me because it served to highlight my unhappiness with my own self."
"I'm frankly ashamed of how poorly we've dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO," continued Costolo's internal memo to Twitter employees. "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. 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."
Last month, after significant pressure, Twitter began making improvements to its process for reporting abuse, and late last year it began working with an advocacy group to address problems. All of this—now admittedly—is too little too late (Lindy has written in the past about how her abuse reports have been rejected), but it's a testament to the bravery of people like Lindy, who choose to speak their opinions on subjects that can draw an irrational amount of cowardly, anonymous hate. It remains to be seen whether or not Costolo's commitments will materialize in the form of effective policy, but the realization that abuse is causing the social network to lose users at least carries some resonance in terms that Silicon Valley can understand: revenue.