Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has made a remarkably candid, but totally obvious observation that could lead to some much-needed change on the social media platform: In an internal memo obtained by the Verge this week, Costolo admitted that Twitter simply doesn't do enough to protect its users from harassment. He's also taking personal responsibility for the problem.
"We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years," Costolo said in the memo. "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."
The memo circulated in response to a recent "This American Life" segment featuring writer Lindy West, who documented her experience being trolled by a Twitter user who impersonated her deceased father. West's story reportedly prompted an internal dialogue at Twitter about how to improve its response to harassment, eliciting Costolo's frank comments:
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. 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.
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.
Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.
Costolo followed up his initial memo with another clarification that he feels personal responsibility in the matter:
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.
Twitter has recently attempted to make it easier to report harassment and abuse. Last year the platform partnered with the advocacy group Women, Action & the Media to implement a pilot reporting system that allows users to cite gendered harassment in particular. According to a recent Pew Research poll, women -- especially young women -- suffer disproportionately from severe online harassment, including stalking, sexual harassment and death threats. (Twitter, however, hasn't considered violent threats to be harassment in practice.)
Neither Costolo nor the company has commented on the memo, but as the Verge's Nitasha Tiku and Casey Newton note, Twitter's fourth quarter earnings meeting is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. With the release of Costolo's comments on trolling, it's likely Twitter's leadership will discuss how to make the platform safer for its users.