Twitter CEO admits company ‘sucks’ at dealing with trolls

Company strikes deal with Google for tweets to show up in searches

Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, has taken personal responsibility for the social media website’s problems in dealing with abuse reported by users. Photograph: Getty

Twitter’s chief executive has taken personal responsibility for the social media website’s problems in dealing with abuse reported by users.

The acknowledgement from Dick Costolo came in an internal memo seen by technology website The Verge, in which he said the company should be embarrassed by the way it handles abuse and that it must take stronger action in the future.

“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. 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,” he said.

“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.”


Mr Costolo's comments came on an internal forum among Twitter employees, after another member of staff raised the question of what more could be done to tackle online abuse in the wake of writer Lindy West speaking to the Guardian about her experiences.

She received comments and abuse on a daily basis, and internet trolls even created a Twitter account in the name of her deceased father in order to send insults to her.

“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,” added Mr Costolo. “Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.”

Stories of abuse, threats and internet trolls have become commonplace on Twitter in recent years.

Robin Williams' daughter, Zelda Williams, left the social platform last year after being sent disturbing images in the wake of her father's suicide. Feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian was threatened with rape, sexual violence and death by Twitter trolls during the Gamergate saga after she criticised the way women are portrayed in video games.

In the UK, journalist Caroline Criado-Perez also received rape threats after she voiced her support for the campaign to introduce Jane Austen as the new face of the £10 note.

Many believe that Twitter is still not doing enough, and in December the social platform moved to make the task of reporting abuse easier. An update saw the process streamlined and fewer steps required in order to report abuse – it used to require filling in a nine-part questionnaire but can now be done in a few steps.

Twitter has said that more tools are on the way to further improve the service. Mr Costolo continued: “Let me be very, very clear about my response here – I take personal responsibility for our failure to deal with this as a company. I thought I did that in my note, so let me reiterate what I said, which is that I take personal responsibility for this. I specifically said ‘It’s nobody’s fault but mine’.

Meanwhile, Twitter has struck a deal with Google to make its 140-character updates more searchable online.

In the first half of this year, tweets will start to be visible in Google’s search results as soon as they’re posted, thanks to a deal giving the Web company access to Twitter’s firehose, the stream of data generated by the microblogging service’s 284 million users, sources said on Wednesday.

Google previously had to crawl Twitter’s site for the information, which will now be visible automatically. Twitter’s shares jumped in early trading.

The agreement underscores the progress that Twitter is making in getting tweets seen by more non-users and generating more advertising revenue from a larger audience.

Twitter, which also provides data to Microsoft’s Bing search service and Yahoo! , is aiming to draw more people to its site as user growth slows.