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30 July 2013 - 1:45pm | posted by | 0 comments

'Disappointingly self-centred and arguably counterproductive' - Twitter's response to troll abuse

Twitter has been criticised for its handling of abuse on its siteTwitter has been criticised for its handling of abuse on its site

This isn’t is a set of suggestions for how Twitter solves trolling. There are people with serious experience of designing systems to deal with this who have offered thoughtful suggestions.
The excellent Martin Belam is one. Another good piece by Sharon O’Dea is here and Charles Arthur and Jemima Kiss at the Guardian have summarised the pros and cons of different suggestions. There are many others.

What seems common ground (and is not at all surprising) is that no easy answers exist and that a determined bedsit hardman will use all his ingenuity to defeat filters.

This consensus between experts is at the heart of Twitter’s PR problem.

Twitter knows that dealing with abuse is exceptionally difficult to automate reliably and after a poor response where its US head of news reacted to criticisms by locking his account, the company had the opportunity to get ahead of the story by making a very clear statement saying three things:

1. To acknowledge the seriousness of what had happened to Caroline Criado-Perez and others

2. To explain clearly why problem is exceptionally hard to crack

3. To announce what it was doing to bring experts together to share insights and move as rapidly as possible to the most robust solution

Instead the statement finally issued by Twitter late on Monday was disappointingly self-centred and didn’t really acknowledge recent events.

The first paragraph reads like it came from the marketing department: “At Twitter, we work every day to create products that can reach every person on the planet...We want Twitter to work whether you are trying to follow your favourite musician, talk to others about shared interests, or raise the visibility of a human rights issue.” That will be a comfort to people being threatened with rape.

The next two paragraphs are just noise and it isn’t until paragraph four that we get some sense that this isn’t a quick fix, wrapped in the excuse that there a lot of tweets out there. Who knew?

This frames a universal problem as Twitter’s problem, ie that it could solve it if it put more effort in. This seems very unwise.

We also learn that iPhone users are able to report from the app, but not from Android or desktop. Note to Twitter – there are a LOT more Android devices out there than iOS. Are they second rate users?

It ends by saying: “We are constantly talking with our users, advocacy groups, and government officials to see how we can improve Twitter” and it hopes we can understand the ‘balances’ it has to make.

Three days to come up with something this lame and arguably counterproductive isn’t good, especially after the account-locking by senior executives nonsense; the exciting new social way of saying ‘no comment’.

So Twitter, I’d suggest four things:

1) Announce a meeting of all the experts in designing systems for dealing with online abuse and invite the media. Call it today and hold it this week. Make Twitter the meeting place for the best brains on this.

2) Explain in mind-numbing detail as many times as you can what makes this a difficult problem, because at the moment your statement makes it an issue of Twitter’s willingness to commit resources.

If you don’t do 1 you will find 2 is a long slog.

3) Have a word with Mark Luckie

4) Respond faster (right now if I go to your blog item one is from 22 July about the Royal baby)

Good luck.

Nigel Sarbutts is an independent marketing communications and PR consultant with over 20 years' experience. His company is www.brandalert.co.uk. He is also the co-founder of www.localbusinesspartners.co.uk which provides part-time directors of finance, HR and marketing to businesses between £2m and £15m turnover.

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