Jack Dorsey posted a tweetstorm about what’s wrong with Twitter and how the company will start to fix it. It’s too late, and probably too little, but it’s a start.
Here’s what he posted:
We’re committing Twitter to help increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation, and to hold ourselves publicly accountable towards progress.
Why? We love instant, public, global messaging and conversation. It’s what Twitter is and it’s why we‘re here. But we didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences. We acknowledge that now, and are determined to find holistic and fair solutions.
We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers. We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.
While working to fix it, we‘ve been accused of apathy, censorship, political bias, and optimizing for our business and share price instead of the concerns of society. This is not who we are, or who we ever want to be.
We’ve focused most of our efforts on removing content against our terms, instead of building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking. This is the approach we now need.
Recently we were asked a simple question: could we measure the “health” of conversation on Twitter? This felt immediately tangible as it spoke to understanding a holistic system rather than just the problematic parts.
Our friends at @cortico and @socialmachines introduced us to the concept of measuring conversational health. They came up with four indicators: shared attention, shared reality, variety of opinion, and receptivity. Read about their work here: https://t.co/A12ZrACs8Z
We don’t yet know if those are the right indicators of conversation health for Twitter. And we don’t yet know how best to measure them, or the best ways to help people increase individual, community, and ultimately, global public health.
What we know is we must commit to a rigorous and independently vetted set of metrics to measure the health of public conversation on Twitter. And we must commit to sharing our results publicly to benefit all who serve the public conversation.
We simply can’t and don’t want to do this alone. So we’re seeking help by opening up an RFP process to cast the widest net possible for great ideas and implementations. This will take time, and we’re committed to providing all the necessary resources. RFP: https://t.co/SFb3e8joLl
We’re going to get a lot of feedback on this thread and these ideas, and we intend to work fast to learn from and share the ongoing conversations. @Vijaya, @mrdonut and I will do a Periscope next week to share more details and answer questions.
Thanks for taking the time to read and consider, and also, come help us: https://t.co/KzlFJWLMjX
Context matters in public statements. The context for this one is toxic.
In the absence of context, this seems like a very straightforward plea to start measuring the health of Twitter. And to Dorsey’s credit, he clearly admits and describes the problem, and it’s hard to argue that measurement would be a good first step towards solving it. Of course, Twitter has been around for more than ten years, it’s had a troll problem for almost that long, and the abuses of the 2016 presidential election started nearly two years ago. It’s long past time for a better solution to the problem.
This statement sounds direct, but includes a lot of weasel words and jargon, like “most of our efforts,” “holistic,” and “rigorous.” I took a shot at stripping away the extra verbiage to see what this communication really says. So here’s a much briefer translation of what he said (also in the form of tweetable chunks).
We need to fix Twitter. We created this platform and then watched it become an enabler of abuse and propaganda.
A true fix would require rethinking nearly everything about how Twitter works. We’re finally ready to consider that.
At the risk of descending into cliche, “more research is needed.” So send us a proposal for measuring how healthy Twitter is. We’ll give you six weeks to come up with the proposal.
Then we’ll spend some time to evaluate the proposals and pick one. Then they’ll spend some time working on it. Then we’ll need to tweak it. So in a year or so, we’ll be in a position to measure the problem. Not fix it, mind you, but measure it.
What comes after that? We’ll see.
Will this fix Twitter?
I predict that by the time of the U.S. midterm elections — November of this year — Twitter will not yet have a measurement system in place. When it does appear, we will be able to look back retrospectively and see that there was a problem.
Once the conversational health measurement is in place, then what?
Will it fix the abuse and troll problem? No. As a former survey analyst, I can tell you that measuring the problem globally does not necessarily lead to ideas for how to fix it locally, by changing sign-up rules, tests for dumping accounts, blocking abusers, and so on. Those problems will remain even when the health measurement is in place.
Secondly, a publicly visible health measurement is visible to trolls as well. Even as Dorsey’s Twitter moves to make changes to improve the health of Twitter and reduce abuse, the well-funded troll collectives will evaluate those policies and find ways to subvert them. Twitter must move in a coordinated, ethical, and public way. But as we learned in Robert Mueller’s recent indictment, Russians are systematically subverting the Twitter rules to create chaos, doubt, and division in American politics. Surely, these Russian actors — and anyone else with a systematic effort to subvert Twitter — will find ways around the rules. Unlike Twitter, they are not bound by ethics; can try a hundred different tactics and see what works; and can loosely coordinate with other actors with similar goals.
Twitter has taken a healthy first step in the right direction. But in my estimation, those hoping to subvert it have a healthy head-start, and are moving too cagily and quickly for Twitter to catch them.