On Thursday, Twitter reported a loss of $125 million, or 20 cents per share, on revenue of $479 million. That's up from $243 million a year ago. But the New York Times called the company's top-line growth "a faint glimmer of good news," focusing instead on the platform's addition of an anemic 4 million users in the quarter, representing an increase of barely over 1 percent.
Investors did not agree with the Times. They sent shares up over 16 percent today.
But whatever you think of the company's financial prospects, none other than its own CEO thinks it can do much better on a topic that's garnered a lot of press lately: Twitter trolls chasing users away.
Two days ago, The Verge obtained an internal memo from CEO Dick Costolo lamenting the company's inability to deal effectively with those Twitterers who harass other users on the site. In response to an employee's question on an online forum about cyberbullying, Costolo responded:
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.
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.
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.
Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.
In a followup message, Costolo wrote:
We HAVE to be able to tell each other the truth, and the truth that everybody in the world knows is that we have not effectively dealt with this problem even remotely to the degree we should have by now, and that's on me and nobody else. So now we're going to fix it, and I'm going to take full responsibility for making sure that the people working night and day on this have the resources they need to address the issue, that there are clear lines of responsibility and accountability, and that we don't equivocate in our decisions and choices.
Carolyn Petit agrees with Costolo that Twitter sucks at dealing with abuse. Petit is the former editor of the site GameSpot. (She has also written for KQED Arts.) In September 2013 she wrote a review of Grand Theft Auto 5 that talked about the virtues of the game but also its "unnecessary strain of misogynistic nastiness." In a sort of prelude to the GamerGate controversy, the review drew more than 22,000 comments, including many that attacked Petit for her opinions. The negative comments also bled over to her Twitter feed, where, she says, she fielded death threats among the other attacks.
As a transgender woman, Petit says, "it is not unusual for me to get hateful and harassing messages here and there on Twitter, but this review was the catalyst for a tremendous influx of hateful harassing tweets," including many slurs around her gender identity and appearance.
She mostly responded by blocking the abusive Tweeters from sending her messages. "That's often the only immediately effective response to trolls on Twitter," she says. "The only problem is it doesn't acknowledge the fact that sometimes there are things that may need to be taken more seriously, like death threats that need to be looked into by law enforcement, (the users) that Twitter has the responsibility to step in and shut down in immediate and more effective ways than they do."
She says her reports of abuse using Twitter's online form resulted in automated replies. Many times, she said, she'd get a followup email that the Tweeter was not in violation of Twitter's user policy, so the company was not taking any action, and that the best response on her part was to block him or her.
"These were really just disgusting Tweets about me," she says of the messages she reported. "Things about me being transgender, really vile comments."
One midsummer afternoon in 2013, I got a message on Twitter from my dead dad. I don't remember what it said exactly. And I didn't keep a copy for my scrapbook. But it was mean.
And my dad was never mean. So it couldn't really be from him. Also, he was dead. Just 18 months earlier, I'd watched him turn gray and drown in his own lungs. So I was like 80% sure.
And I don't believe in heaven. And even if I did, I'd hope to god they don't have fucking Twitter there. It's heaven. Go play chocolate badminton on a cloud with Jerry Orbach and your childhood cat.
But there it was, a message. Some context-- in the summer of 2013, in certain circles of the internet, comedians and feminists were at war over rape jokes. Being both a comedy writer and a committed feminist killjoy, I weighed in with an article in which I said that I think a lot of male comedians are careless with the subject of rape.
Here's just a sample of the responses I got on social media. A quick warning, these are internet comments about rape, so it's going to suck.
"I love how the bitch complaining about rape is the exact kind of bitch that would never be raped." "Holes like this make me want to commit rape out of anger." "I just want to rape her with a traffic cone." "No one would want to rape that fat disgusting mess." "Kill yourself." "I want to put an apple into that mouth of yours and take a huge stick and slide it through your body and roast you." "That big bitch is bitter that no one wants to rape her."
It went on like that for weeks. It's something I'm used to. I have to be. Being insulted and threatened online is part of my job, which is not to say it doesn't hurt. It does. It feels-- well, exactly like you would imagine it would feel to have someone call you a fat cunt every day of your life.
West's story has a happy ending, of sorts. She ends up entering into a dialogue with her harasser and forgiving him.
But that is not going to happen very much, and Petit thinks Twitter should institute more of a zero-tolerance approach to harassment over topics like gender identity, religion and sexual orientation.
She has never thought of ditching Twitter altogether because it's "really an important social network for me and many other people professionally. It's also a way that me and many other people connect with and interact with out friends. To (leave) Twitter due to psychological harassment would feel like a real loss. We shouldn't be the ones who are driven out."
Twitter has not yet responded to an email for comment we sent around 2:40 p.m.