Jack Dorsey Tweetstorms a Plea to Make Twitter More Civil

  • Twitter casts wide net for ways to measure health of discourse
  • Latest step to combat manuipulation, rancorous tweets
Jack Dorsey Looks to Tackle Twitter's Toxicity

Twitter Inc. just admitted it’s become a swamp for toxic conversations.

Jack Dorsey tweetstormed a plea for ways to make Twitter’s social network a nicer place by measuring "collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation." The chief executive officer and co-founder said Twitter accepted responsibility for inadvertently helping to spread misinformation, harassment, and manipulation via bots. He asked the public to propose solutions and, in an accompanying blog, cited work in this area by nonprofit Cortico.

"We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers," Dorsey tweeted. "We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough."

Twitter said it will accept health metrics proposals through April 13. The company will collaborate with successful applicants and provide public data access and funding for research.

Twitter, like other social media platforms, has come under fire for being a place for rancorous and toxic conversations. In addition to removing abuse and spam, the company is broadening its scope to examine how it’s enabling public conversation. In November, Twitter halted its verification system, calling it "broken" after the process became seen as a stamp of approval for trolls, white supremacists and others disseminating hateful speech online.

The changes come as tech companies face a backlash over the negative impact some critics say they have on society. Late last year, Facebook even cited research indicating that social media can be bad for mental health. In addition to proliferating propaganda and fake news, Twitter has been criticized for not doing enough to prevent abuse and harassment. Many women have been driven off Twitter by vicious trolls.

Twitter has also been dealing with the congressional investigating into how social-media services like Twitter, Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube were manipulated during the election. Twitter has come under intense scrutiny for being ill-prepared to address the magnitude of the situation. In a recent submission to Congress, Twitter said Russian-linked bots shared President Donald Trump’s tweets almost half a million times during the final months of the 2016 election.

Dorsey’s request for proposals is the latest effort by Twitter to address such manipulation. It has banned Russian state media accounts from buying ads and is creating a “transparency center” to show how much political campaigns spend on advertising, the identity of the organization funding the campaign, and what demographics the ads targeted.

Facebook has also been battling with the perception that it’s a swamp for fake news. It’s tried to fix that by focusing on "meaningful interactions" between friends and family on the site. The company is also prioritizing information from publishers that remain on the social network by measuring how trustworthy they are. Trustworthiness is based on a recent survey of U.S. Facebook users that gauged their familiarity with, and trust in, different sources of news.

For more on Twitter, check out the Decrypted podcast:

(Updates with background on Twitter in fifth paragraph.)
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