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Twitter CEO Talks Battling the Trolls

“We’re going to get a lot more aggressive about [harassment], and it’s going to start right now,” says Dick Costolo

Dick Costolo

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said the social media service will ramp up their efforts against harassment and trolls.

Ethan Miller/Getty

The Internet at large will be able to breathe another day now that the FCC has voted in favor of “net neutrality,” but Twitter CEO Dick Costolo knows the ultimate battle for the web is still being waged against an enemy far more vicious than the cable companies: The trolls.

In an interview with The New York Times, Costolo discussed Twitter’s hardened new approach to dealing with rampant harassment on the social media site. Costolo specifically addressed a recent memo he sent to employees that bluntly stated, “We suck at dealing with abuse,” stating, “I wanted to really send a wake-up call to the company that we’re going to get a lot more aggressive about it, and it’s going to start right now.”

While Twitter has been receiving complaints about harassment for years, Costolo acknowledged it’s a particularly difficult issue to deal with as there are so many varying degrees of abuse. For example, he noted, after the aforementioned memo went public, he received messages from users complaining about abuse that’s actually “fairly rational political discourse.”

“We’ve drawn a line on what constitutes harassment and abuse,” Costolo said. “I believe that we haven’t yet drawn that line to put the cost of dealing with harassment on those doing the harassing. It shouldn’t be the person who’s being harassed who has to do a lot of work.”

Of course, drawing those lines means deciding what constitutes free speech and abuse, an undeniably difficult task. “Well, you set policies and then you try to stick to those policies,” Costolo explained. “One way of thinking about it is: I may have a right to say something, but I don’t have a right to stand in your living room and scream it into your ear five times in a row. Right? I think there are things you can do on the platform that are of varying degrees of severity — not just black and white.”

Along with complaints about abuse, Twitter’s security measures came under fire after a string of high-profile accounts were hacked including the Associated Press and musicians like the Flaming Lips, No Doubt, Rise Against and Nicole Scherzinger. In response, Twitter bolstered their security measures by implementing a two-factor authentication process. Last month, however, hackers were still able to weasel their way onto Taylor Swift’s account.

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