Twitter ($TWTR) is the most useful and awful online platform to ever exist.
If you’re consuming news, Twitter is more instant and off-the-cuff than Facebook reading the news on one specific website. If you’re remotely talking with your peers about an issue in a public or semi-public forum, then Twitter is the first place you want to do that.
Unfortunately, Twitter is also a cesspool of fake news, trolls, and terrible, horrible content that anyone can access (but shouldn’t). We’re talking videos of beheadings, violent images, racist screeds against entire groups of people, and other assorted bits from the worst humanity has to offer.
For most of its existence, Twitter’s response to the trolling and nastiness on their site has been “we’re working on it.” Over time, they added functions like better blocking capabilities and mute functions, but these were just really thin bandages on a gaping wound.
What does this have to do with Twitter’s business?
While the company grew, so did the abuse. That’s when users started to leave — as did advertisers — and the company’s value decreased. When they (allegedly) tried to pursue a buyout, interested parties were (allegedly) turned off by the company’s inability to get horrible people off their service.
Realizing that their future was in jeopardy, Twitter announced new blocking and muting features to its service. Now, if there’s a specific word in a tweet or message sent to you, you can block it. This way, you can filter out specific hateful terms from the hateful people using them, even when they’re sent directly to you.
When Twitter announced this yesterday, their stock increased in value. Investors saw this new feature as a way to combat hate, which would hopefully lead users to use the service more often and woo more advertisers. This would essentially increase Twitter’s value as a company, and make a bigger company actually want to acquire them.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough.
If a tweet is live and no one sees it but you, does it exist?
Yes it does.
These new filters prevent you from ever having to see a tweet containing a specific word or words, which means you can avoid a whole lot of hateful tweets. Unfortunately, those tweets exist, as do the Twitter users who sent them. Sure, Twitter supposedly expanded their ability to ban said users and marginally improved harmful tweets, but they’ve claimed that for the last several years with no noticeable changes.
Essentially, hateful tweets and users will continue to exist. Misinformation will continue to spread. Twitter’s new tools could slow this down a tad bit, but not deal with the problem at large. This would require hiring top data scientists, implementing machine learning techniques to curb hate speech, and being more proactive in banning users signing up for multiple accounts.
Twitter’s troll problem isn’t going away any time soon until they really make sweeping progress on this effort. Sure, you can filter messages, but that requires users to actually set up their filters, which most users won’t. They’ll only likely do so once they’re met with online harassment and abuse.
What’s a company gotta do to get a buyout around here?
Twitter needed an incentive to really ramp up their anti-harassment and anti-hate-speech efforts.
Allegedly losing an acquisition opportunity was one said incentive, as a family-friendly company like Disney (rumored to have been in talks for buying Twitter) would want nothing to do with such a toxic environment. Less awfulness on Twitter makes Twitter more desirable of a buy, and the everyone knows that.
Many journalists and left-leaning Twitter users also see the site as one of the reasons Trump was elected. Since the company did nothing to prevent hate speech and misinformation from spreading, members of the alt-right were free to say and do as they pleased, which maybe caught the eye of a handful of impressionable and/or undecided voters.
If Twitter wants to stay afloat, they need a buyout. If they want a buyout, they have to shake their negative image. If they want to be seen as a positive, not-so-hate-fueled place to communicate online, they have to do a whole lot more to prevent online bullies. What they announced yesterday was a step in a right direction, but it’s not enough.
Share this with your friends below, because most of them probably stopped using Twitter.