Twitter’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Month
July 27, 2016
July 27, 2016
When people ask me what my favorite social media platform is, I quickly reply that it’s Twitter. I’ve developed great relationships with interesting people and get myriad news updates from the fast-moving feed. And, historically, Twitter has been fun. From watching llamas on the loose to discussing political conventions and award shows, it allows users to respond as events unfold in real time.
However, even as a Twitter die-hard, I’m starting to dial back my use of the channel. Why?
Because it’s not fun anymore.
In July, Twitter’s persistent problem with blocking hateful speech returned to the limelight. Actress Leslie Jones unleashed a tweetstorm, reposting the racist comments she sees in her mentions on a regular basis. Jones then quit the platform, saying “I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart.”
Twitter’s co-founder quickly reached out to Jones, and the platform ultimately blocked Brietbart News contributor Milo Yiannopoulos for targeting users for abuse. On Thursday, Jones announced she was back on the platform, saying “Who else is gonna live tweet Game of Thrones!!”
Kudos to Jones for using her fame—especially during an emotional time for her—to bring the issue of anonymous Twitter abuse to the fore. But when the average, non-celebrity Twitter user tries to ping the platform about abuse, spam or users impersonating their accounts, they get sent to a frustrating online reporting system that doesn’t provide clear updates on the status of an issue. It’s not too surprising that Twitter is losing users and struggling to connect with advertisers.
Even if a user manages to vanquish one troll account, there’s no concrete way to ensure that same user can’t open a new account and begin the hate speech anew. (If you care to get into the weeds on the technicalities of how Twitter could better manage its service and don’t mind a little blue language, this Medium post offers some great ideas.)
Later in the month, Twitter announced that it was opening up an application process for the coveted yet clandestine blue-check verified status to all accounts. Whether the announcement was timed to stem the negative press from Jones’ tweetstorm or whether it was already in the works, the news was met with initial excitement, but ultimately led to frustration because, surprise surprise, the requirements for achieving verification are not transparent.
Perhaps, to borrow a phrase from Hamilton, Twitter can solve one problem (trolls) with another (verified accounts) by incentivizing users to put a real name to their accounts, thus making it less likely they’d spew vitriol if they knew their boss could see it, or they’d lose their Twitter privileges. From a Neiman Lab post about the move:
Changing verified status from something a thin elite has to something Twitter’s middle class has could make it easier to reduce the bad behavior that it turning so many people away from the platform.
That’s not the only path Twitter could take to battle abuse, of course. But it’s clear needs to do something substantially more than it is currently, and these verification rejections would seem to be a data point that it isn’t the plan.
In the earlier days of Twitter, I felt more confident in boldly stating my opinion about a politician or policy because even if someone disagreed with me, they’d generally be respectful and we could have a meaningful conversation. Now, I fear that the wrong message could unleash an army of trolls into my mentions—and possibly into my real life. In an era in which it’s easier than ever to go viral for the wrong reasons, Twitter’s inability or unwillingness to vaporize accounts that trade in hateful language has me thinking that Instagram may soon be my favorite social platform.
On behalf of all fans, I urge my favorite blue bird: Make Twitter Fun Again.