Twitter is once again facing scrutiny over its alleged failure to tackle abuse on its platform. The company has now been forced to speak out on its abuse problem not once, but twice in the previous 24 hours.
Firstly, on Wednesday, it shot down rumors that it was shutting down next year due to its incapacity to deal with trolls. Then, on Thursday, it released a public statement denying related allegations made against it in a damning BuzzFeed report.
The long-form article details Twitter’s decade-long abuse problem, from the platform’s inception until today, when trolling and persecution has become commonplace. The report touches upon numerous issues that have resulted in the issue of user harassment continually being side-lined by the company. These include failed policy changes, internal chaos within its product management department, and a post-IPO environment built on shifting priorities.
Twitter’s former head of news, Vivian Schiller, sums up the abuse problem as such: “The people that run Twitter … are not stupid. They understand that this toxicity can kill them, but how do you draw the line? Where do you draw the line?”
“I would actually challenge anyone to identify a perfect solution. But it feels to a certain extent that it’s led to paralysis,” adds Schiller.
Former workers also told BuzzFeed that Twitter has double standards when it comes to its treatment of high-profile individuals. Among the examples cited by ex-employees were two cases in particular that occurred under the leadership of former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.
An outspoken advocate of the company’s commitment to free speech, it is alleged that Costolo secretly employed an algorithm to block abusive language directed at President Obama during a Q&A session on the platform. The same censorship system was again utilized during a similar online event featuring Caitlyn Jenner.
Twitter quickly responded to the article with the following statement on its blog: “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. 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. There is a lot of work to do but please know we are committed, focused, and will have updates to share soon.”
In fact, Twitter has implemented a number of anti-abuse measures this year, including a streamlined blocking process, and the formation of a Trust and Safety Council. However, critics argue that the measures have done little to stem the tide of harassment the platform’s users (in particular women, people of color, and religious minorities) face on a daily basis.
As we know from the recent controversy over Facebook’s trending topics feed, when a popular company — which touts even a small aspect of its platform as being unregulated — is accused of censorship, the resulting backlash can be fierce. Facebook has never flaunted its free speech credentials in the manner that Twitter has, but it was forced to respond several times to the allegations, including a statement from founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
There has been no such reply from Twitter’s leadership, and the firm’s statement simply reiterates what it has always stated on the record. As the criticism reaches fever pitch, though, that may not be the case for much longer.
We reached out to Twitter for a comment but the company did not immediately respond.