No Longer "Sucking": Twitters Working on Its Troll Problem

By Markets Fool.com

Source: Flickr user Andreas Eldh.

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Twitter is something of a paradox: On one hand, the service is an amazing distribution and content discovery tool. On the other, it has developed a deserved reputation as an outlet for users' anger, filled with racist, hateful, and misogynistic rhetoric.Quite frankly, Twitter for years has "sucked" at dealing with abuse and trolls on its site.

That comes straight from Dick Costolo, Twitter's CEO. In a leaked memo from early February, Costolo committed to doing a better job of protecting users from harsh and unnecessary comments.

Two months earlier, Twitter had rolled out modest reforms -- mostly focused on reporting abuse -- and alluded to future updates. Twitter's latest improvements show the company is committed to addressing its issues.

More focus on enforcement
On Feb. 26, in a blog post entitled "Update on user safety features," Twitter said the microblogging site would address impersonation, self-harm, and the sharing of private and confidential information. Twitter didn't elaborate on the changes, only noting they "will not be visible to the vast majority of rule-abiding Twitter users," but tech website The Verge notes that Twitter will begin tracking abusers by phone number instead of email address. This makes it harder to open new accounts once suspended.

As for the reforms, Twitter is now looking to address doxing -- the practice of sharing confidential information including the addresses, photos, and names of "targets" in an attempt to initiate vigilante justice.

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While not inclusive, some of the more nefarious instances of doxing have developed from Gamergate and the controversialRolling Stone article that highlighted an alleged rape victim at the University of Virginia. In Gamergate, female gamers and journalists had their home addresses leaked for addressing what they feel is a misogynistic culture. The identity of the UVA student was made public when other outlets found Rolling Stone's story poorly fact-checked amid the woman's shifting description of events.

In the last week alone, ISIS publicly threatened Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and company employees over the service's efforts to block accounts connected to the violent extremist organization, and former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling penned an open letter to address "vile" tweets directed at his daughter.

Harassment, angry dialogue, and unforced errors hurts Twitter's value proposition to marketers
For marketers, the live and viral nature of Twitter, combined with the trolls and abuse, present challenges that don't exist with television and print marketing. Even social media giant Facebook doesn't seem to be fraught with such landmines. Even worse for advertisers, it seems in many cases there's a concerted effort to undermine brands on Twitter's site.

Coca-Cola learned a lesson from its "Make it Happy" campaign. After spending a rather large sum for Super Bowl ads, ironically to exhort the Internet to become a happier place, Coca-Cola rolled out a social media component on Twitter by establishing the hashtag #MakeItHappy. The campaign was designed for people to retweet angry and harmful messages they've recently experienced to the hashtag; Coca-Cola would then turn the words into happy ASCII art.

The campaign was abruptly stopped when gossip site Gawker tweeted passages from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in a created handle -- @MeinCoke. The Nazi-based hijinks didn't stop there. A few days later,Chipotle's Twitter account was hacked and its profile picture replaced with a swastika.

Twitter has time to work on this problem
Many have focused on Twitter's slowing user growth. After monthly active users grew by 30.3% in 2013, that number dropped to 19.5% last year. Meanwhile, ad revenue grew by 121% and 111% during those years, respectively, mostly as advertisers drove up the price of revenue per timeline view. While Twitter cites ad engagements (read: retweets, replies, and mentions) for increasing the revenue per timeline view, not all retweets, replies, and mentions are necessarily positive for a business's brand.

In the end, requiring abusers to use a verification method other than an easy-to-create email address is a solid policy. It's a small step, but a strong one that should encourage better dialogue on its service. Advertisers and investors alike should be encouraged that Twitter is working on its troll problem.

The article No Longer "Sucking": Twitters Working on Its Troll Problem originally appeared on Fool.com.

Jamal Carnette owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Coca-Cola, Facebook, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Facebook, and Twitter and has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.