But he wasn’t clear about what he’s doing to solve it.
5 min read
Jack Dorsey said a lot about Twitter’s biggest priorities in an interview published yesterday, but little of it made sense. Sitting down with The Huffington Post, Dorsey had a wide-ranging conversation with reporter Ashley Feinberg about what he was doing to make the platform safer for users in terms of both harassment and the spreading of misinformation.
“I mean that we weren’t expecting any of the abuse and harassment, and just the ways that people have weaponized the platform. So, all that is horrible,” Dorsey said when asked whether there was a use of his platform that horrified him the most. “And you know, we feel bad about that and we feel responsible about it. So that’s what we intend to fix.”
But in reading the rest of his responses, the actionable things that Twitter is doing to combat these issues seemed to be obfuscated behind assurances and Silicon Valley buzzwords. Clarity was in short supply.
For example, talking about the company’s response to doxxing, when someone’s personal information is posted publicly as a means of harassment, Dorsey said that part of the issue is that they don’t know if an instance of this is happening without someone reporting it, and then that complaint lands in a queue.
“A lot of our work right now is looking at the prioritization of the queues and making sure that, No. 1, we’re protecting someone’s physical safety as much as we can and understanding the offline ramifications of using our service,” he said. “So that’s work in flight. Most of our priority right now in terms of health, which is the No. 1 priority of the company, is around being proactive. How do we remove the burden from the victims or bystanders from reporting in the first place? It’s way too mechanical. It’s way too much work. If people have to report, we should see it as a failure.”
He said the goal is to decrease the number of reports they recieve. “That will be because of two reasons. One, people are seeing far less abuse or harassment or other things that are against the terms of service. Or that we’re being more proactive about it. So we want to do both. So a lot of our work is that, and then better prioritization in the meantime. A lot more transparency, clearer actions within the product.”
But when it came to what those “clearer actions” would actually look like, there wasn’t much to go on.
“Just, you know, finding the report button isn’t the most obvious and intuitive right now. So that certainly slows things down,” he said. When asked what the alternative would be, Dorsey’s response was vague: “Making it more obvious? I don’t … I mean, I’m not going to … I don’t know what it looks like right now, but we know what’s wrong with it. So, you know, that’s what we’re working on.”
The conversation shifted to what the company characterizes as a toxic exchange and Dorsey appeared to be taking a more academic than actionable approach.
“We have algorithms that can determine, based on the network, based on what people are doing elsewhere, based on the number of reports, based on mutes and blocks, whether this is a conversation that you’d want to stay in or you’d want to walk away from,” Dorsey said. “And that doesn’t inform any direct action, but it can inform enforcement actions and whatnot, like when a human has to actually review. So toxicity is one such metric, we call it receptivity. Like, are the members of the conversation receptive to each other? We have variety of perspective as an indicator. We have shared reality.”
He went on to say that right now Twitter is trying to determine what the indicators of a toxic conversation are.
“Like, temperature on your body — that indicates whether you’re sick or not, right? So if you were to apply the same concept to conversations, what are the indicators of a healthy conversation versus a toxic conversation? That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “We did this whole thing with outside researchers and RFP to get external help to determine these indicators. But this is all in the health thread, all the details.”
The conversation got into his recent controversial trip to Myanmar, and the president’s use of the platform. But when asked for specifics around what Twitter is doing in the event of politicians promoting misinformation, Dorsey was again, nonspecific: “We take action.”