Stephen Lepitak

A blog from The Drum's editor, Stephen Lepitak, covering reaction to events in media, social media, marketing, advertising and communications in general.

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Whoever buys Twitter needs to deal with impossible conundrum of ridding it of its trolls

For years there have been rumors of an acquisition when it comes to my own personal favorite social media platform - Twitter. Amidst continued reports of a plateau of its userbase, a need to figure out other revenue streams and investment in live content streaming it has spent the last couple of years changing its team at the top without turning things around to any great degree. 

One thing that Twitter doesn't seem to have come any further to solving that is at the forefront of its issues however is keeping its trolls in check. 

Just ask Leslie Jones for example...

It claims to have 310 million users - however reports have stayed that only around half of those are regular users - try policing 140 million accounts that maybe set up just to hurl abuse at people. 

Over the years I have known, experienced and seen the effects of the trolls that make up a fair number of Twitter's user-ship and it often leads me to dismay at the base level of 'humanity' at how low they will go - online brings out the worst in people there is no doubt. 

With Gamergate we saw a shameful abuse of social media - which led Twitter's lawyer Vijaya Gadde to admit that it had been "inexcusably slow" to act. It's former CEO, Dick Costolo also admitted to the problem before his departure.

In 2014, Women, Action & the Media, an independent movement created to support the millions of women working in media, began work on a report around Twitter with its willing participation, entitled Reporting, Reviewing, And Responding To Harassment. 

The report, some of the results of which can be viewed in the infographic below, offered solutions to the harassment problem including holding more users to account. 

As recommended by the report, Twitter has made it simpler to report abuse on the platform but it has never really figured out how to control what is said through it - not will it ever be able to truly police that itself. 

Another recommendation it followed earlier this year saw Twitter make it simpler for users to filter out abusive the threatening messages by only seeing messages from those they follow - however that is just digging a hole in the sand to allow it to stick it's head in. Opening up Verification to those beyond celebrities and journalists probably won't make much difference either. It doesn't seem to be much easier getting verified in any case - even if you work in media. 

The results of social media bullying can be life ruining - and despite laws now mean that people are being jailed for online abuse - it has failed to quell the problem and it's hard to see how it does find a solution.

Anyone buying it must consider whether they have a plan of action. 

Can Salesforce, one of those reportedly interested in lining up a bid, do that? I'm not so sure it can. Google I am more optimistic has the ability to make a difference and I can see how Twitter would be a good fit for them (as I could when Yahoo was mooted - although perhaps Twitter dodged a bullet there.) 

Disney's interest could see it as a potential marketing platform for its media content - however the beauty of Twitter is its neutrality when it comes to content discussions - is that something the media powerhouse would change should it make a move? 

Whoever takes it on also inherits a problem that doesn't seem any closer to a solution - but for the sake of social media overall, needs to find one eventually. And the sooner the better for all. 

Twitter abuse infographic
 
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