Twitter launches another bid to tackle bots and abuse after years of promises
This article titled “Twitter launches another bid to tackle bots and abuse after years of promises” was written by Olivia Solon in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Thursday 1st March 2018 19.20 UTC
Twitter has asked for help in tackling the rampant harassment, bots, misinformation and polarisation in a more strategic way so that it can improve the “health” of conversation on the platform, the company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, said on Thursday.
“We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough,” Dorsey tweeted.
“We’ve focused most of our efforts on removing content against our terms, instead of building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking. This is the approach we need now.”
While working to fix the problem, Twitter has been accused of “apathy, censorship, political bias and optimising our business for share price instead of the concerns of society”.
“This is not who we are now or who we ever want to be,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey suggested that the health of conversations could be measured using indicators developed by the media analytics firm Cortico, which include: shared attention (is there overlap in what we are talking about?), shared reality (are we using the same facts?), variety of opinion (are we exposed to different opinions grounded in shared reality?) and receptivity (are we open, civil and listening to different opinions?).
“We don’t yet know if those are the right indicators of conversation health for Twitter,” Dorsey noted, inviting others to submit proposals for how the company could reduce the toxicity on its platform.
This is the latest in a litany of pledges from Twitter over the last few years. In 2012 the company pledged to fight spam. In 2015, the then CEO, Dick Costolo, said “we suck at dealing with abuse” and pledged to start “kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them”. In September 2017, the company said it was “committed to getting better” at tackling Russian troll armies and bots. In October, it promised to increase transparency around political and issue-based ads. In December 2017, the company pledged to get better at tackling terrorist content. In January 2018, the company said it was “committed to providing a better platform that fosters healthy civic discourse and democratic debate”.
In spite of these commitments, the platform remains a cesspool of harassment, misinformation, trolls and bots.
“Haven’t they said that all before?” said Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Mercer University who researches harassment on social media. She said that Twitter has a “great track record of saying the right words about harassment” but not delivering results.
Kate Miltner, who researches technology and cybersecurity at Berkeley, agrees.
“Jack has made several similar statements over the past few years, and to be sure, there have been incremental changes, but nothing that has made a concrete difference.”
The open request for proposals was “potentially promising”, Miltner said, “particularly since they won’t be keeping the research outcomes under NDA [non-disclosure agreement]”.
Even so, she remains sceptical and suggests that the “timing is pretty suspect”.
“Ignoring the fact that they should have taken a systemic approach to addressing harassment eight or nine years ago, evidence of media manipulation started coming to the fore in 2016. Two years after the establishment of a problem that threatens our democratic process is too little, too late.”
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