Twitter CEO Admits Platform Encourages Outrage

The co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Twitter has made a significant admission about the micro-blogging platform.

Speaking at the TED 2019 conference, Jack Dorsey was invited to talk about Twitter, as well as the health of the global conversation and how the service could change what it incentivized users to do.

Anyone who has used Twitter knows that the platform can be an incredibly bruising and at times hostile environment, but Dorsey said he wants to change the platform and move “away from outrage and mob behaviour and towards productive, healthy conversation.”

Gradual improvements

As far back as 2012, Twitter management had pledged to clampdown on the ‘horrific’ problem of online trolling, bullying and abuse.

To help matters Twitter in 2013 introduced the “report abuse” button where people could manually report ‘abusive’ tweets.

But current CEO and co-founder Dorsey has admitted there is still much work to do to improve Twitter.

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey

When he was asked what worried him about Twitter, Dorsey provided a frank assessment.

“The health of the conversation,” Dorsey said. “Our purpose is to serve the public conversation, and we have seen a number of attacks on it. We’ve seen abuse, we’ve seen harassment, we’ve seen manipulation, automatic and human coordination, misinformation … What worries me most is our ability to address it in a systemic way that is scalable.”

TED current affairs curator Whitney Pennington Rodgers meanwhile noted that an undue portion of that abuse and harassment is directed toward people of colour, specifically black women.

“It’s a pretty terrible situation when you’re coming to a service where, ideally, you want to learn something about the world, and you spend a majority of your time reporting abuse, receiving harassment,” Dorsey admitted. “Last year, we decided that we’re going to apply a lot more machine learning, a lot more deep learning to the problem, and try to be a lot more proactive, so we can take the burden off the victim completely.”

AI assistance

Dorsey made clear that Twitter’s use of AI is paying off in helping it clamp down on abuse.

He said that currently approximately 38 percent of abusive tweets are flagged by algorithms, so users don’t actually have to report them:

“That’s up from 0 percent about a year ago,” said Dorsey, but he also said that humans still review anything that’s flagged before taking it down.

“If I had to start the service again, I probably would not emphasise the follower count as much,” Dorsey said. “I would not emphasize the ‘like’ count as much. I don’t think I would even create ‘like’ in the first place – because it doesn’t actually push what we believe now to be the most important thing, which is healthy contribution back to the network.”

Dorsey also acknowledged the frustration felt by many over its efforts of ridding itself of Nazis and other hate groups?

“I don’t think our rules are very understandable,” Dorsey said. “We’re simplifying the rules so that they’re human-readable, so that people can actually understand, themselves, when something is against our terms and when something is not … Our big focus is on removing the burden of work from the victims — both the humans receiving the abuse and the ones having to review it.”

Looking to the future Dorsey wants Twitter to be a place for reflective engagement, even if that means sacrificing time spent on the site.

How well do you know Twitter? Try our quiz!

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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