Twitter CEO Dick Costolo: 'We suck' at dealing with trolls

The microblogging service's chief is taking personal responsibility for the platform's slow response to user abuse and harassment, according to memos obtained by The Verge.

Twitter's CEO says the company will step up its response to abusive behavior. James Martin/CNET

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is taking personal responsibility for what he called an inadequate response to the chronic abuse and harassment that occurs daily on the social network, according to internal memos obtained by The Verge.

In the memos, shared with employees earlier this month, Costolo said he believes the bullying behavior is driving away users and vows to take stronger action to eliminate the activity from the microblogging platform. The memos emerge as the company struggles to meet investors' expectations for growing its user base.

"We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years," Costolo wrote in one of the internal memos. "It's no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day."

The comments came in response to a question posed by a Twitter employee on an internal forum about what could be done to address the plight of Lindy West, who has been a frequent target of abuse on the service. West, whose tormentors created a Twitter account in the name of her recently deceased father to make crude comments about her, recently told her story to This American Life and the Guardian.

In his frank response, Costolo said the company had failed to adequately address the issue:

I'm frankly ashamed of how poorly we've dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It's absurd. There's no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It's nobody else's fault but mine, and it's embarrassing.

We're going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.

Twitter representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Harassment, while not a new occurrence on the social network, has taken a more public spotlight in recent months. Robin Williams' death in August led some Twitter users to sending vicious messages to his daughter, prompting her to delete the app from her phone. That same month, Anita Sarkeesian, an academic highlighting how women are portrayed in video games, was so disturbed by the tweets she received that she fled her home for fear of safety.

Until recently, Twitter had few ways to control vitriolic or abusive messages its members send to each other. In an attempt to reduce that behavior, the social network unveiled a new set of tools in December to help its members combat harassment and report abusive behavior.

Keeping the platform attractive for users is key to the company's growth ambitions. In the third quarter, the most recent period for which numbers are available, Twitter tallied 284 million users who logged in to the site at least once a day, a 23 percent rise from the same quarter a year earlier. But investors, who aren't convinced that Twitter can keep boosting user growth, have pushed down the company's stock more than 35 percent over the past year.

Twitter is expected to report its fourth-quarter earnings after markets close Thursday. The San Francisco-based microblogging service's stock closed up 93 cents to $40.72, or 2.3 percent.

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