Twitter Hits Back at BuzzFeed Article on Harassment

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Twitter has acknowledged that its responses to harassment on its platform have been insufficient in the past.

Twitter is firing back at a new, unflattering investigation into the company's alleged tolerance for abuse and hate speech. 

Responding to a BuzzFeed piece, the micro-blogging site issued a statement Thursday claiming the story was inaccurate and presented an "unfair portrayal" of the company.

"In response to today's BuzzFeed story on safety, we were contacted just last night for comment and obviously had not seen any part of the story until we read it today," the statement said.

It continued: "We feel there are inaccuracies in the details and unfair portrayals, but rather than go back and forth with BuzzFeed, we are going to continue our work on making Twitter a safer place. There is a lot of work to do, but please know we are committed, focused, and will have updates to share soon.

The story by reporter Charlie Warzel portrays Twitter as a haven for negative speech, calling it "a primary destination for trolls and hate groups."

"Today, Twitter is a well-known hunting ground for women and people of color, who are targeted by neo-Nazis, racists, misogynists and trolls, often just for showing up," Warzel writes.

Twitter has acknowledged that its responses to harassment on its platform have been insufficient in the past. In 2015, then-CEO Dick Costolo wrote in an internal memo to employees: "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," Costolo wrote in a different company note around the same time. "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."

One core user who recently jumped ship was Saturday Night Live's Leslie Jones, who endured an attack from devotees of conservative blogger Milo Yiannopoulos in July. Twitter responded by shutting down his account. Jones has since reactivated her account.

The BuzzFeed article also claims that Twitter has used filtering algorithms and moderators to suppress abusive tweets, a decision that would seriously undermine the company's public position on free speech.

Twitter first tried out its censoring algorithm during a 2015 speech by President Obama, using the hashtag #askPOTUS but then had to revert to traditional content moderators after the program failed to perform.

Despite Twitter's acknowledgment of its harassment problem, Werzel says the company hasn't done much to improve.

"According to 10 high-level former employees," he writes, "the social network's long history with abuse has been fraught with inaction and organizational disarray."

In an apparent response to the piece, Costolo wrote on Twitter: "Total nonsense and laughably false as anybody who would speak on the record would tell you. Absurd. Not even going to link to it. … shows a lack of understanding of the very basics of how trust and safety works at Twitter. Sensationalist nonsense."