Twitter has new product updates in development that will make it "difficult to be an abuser, more expensive to be an abuser," CEO Dick Costolo said in an interview with BuzzFeed News following Twitter's earnings call today.
Yesterday, a leaked memo Costolo sent to the entire company made its way to The Verge. In it, Costolo said that "we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls," and noted that he was "ashamed of how poorly we've dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO." He went on to take personal responsibility for the problem and pledged to do better.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News today, Costolo elaborated a bit on how he plans to make that happen. Without detailing specific measures, Costolo outlined a plan both to make it easier to effectively ban people from Twitter, and to make sure that abusive speech would be harder to aim directly at users in ways that would dominate their Twitter timelines.
"It has to be the case that it's more expensive to be an abuser on the platform than to be [abused]," Costolo told BuzzFeed News. "What I mean by that, today if you are the recipient of abuse or harassment you have to go through a reporting process that is difficult."
"Importantly, the onus is on you as the abused to report," Costolo said. "If an account gets suspended they just pop up again somewhere else and then you have to go through that whole process again. It has to be the case that the economics of that whole situation are completely reversed, so that it's difficult to be an abuser, more expensive to be an abuser. It makes it harder for your speech on the platform to be heard."
Twitter did make reporting abuse easier toward the end of last year, yet it still is a multistep process that's largely ineffectual, especially at combating large-scale serial harassment. Moreover, it's relatively easy for people to skirt the edges of Twitter's terms of service and remain just within the boundaries of acceptable use, while still making life a nightmare for others using the service. Costolo says concrete changes are coming to the product itself to help end that.
"We have a lot of ideas and products already under development to make that a reality," he noted.
One dilemma Twitter has run up against in enforcement is that it has traditionally considered itself as a place that welcomes free and controversial speech. Costolo has even declared to NPR among others, "We're the free speech wing of the free speech party."
"The way I would frame it," Costolo said, "is people should have a right to speak freely on the platform, but you don't necessarily have a right to have your mentions of me show up in my mentions timeline with whatever you choose to say, and your response is that I can call you whatever I want to call you. I think that's one way to think about it. I generally have the right to speak freely on the platform, but I don't have the right to have whatever nasty thing I want to say about you show up in your mentions.
"That's just one way to think about it; there is obviously a lot more to it than that, and a lot more we're doing when we think about that expense equation and making it harder and harder for abusers to be heard on the platform."
Mat Honan is the San Francisco bureau chief for BuzzFeed News. Formerly a senior staff writer at Wired, he has been writing about the technology industry and its impact on society for nearly 20 years.
Contact Mat Honan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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