Dick Costolo wrote a heartfelt mea culpa this week to his staff on the harassment and trolling issue. It’s a paradoxical moment because no company has ever built as sophisticated a harassment policy and tool set as Twitter — yet they still have trolling issues.
In this piece I’ll explain three things: first, why Twitter has this problem and Facebook doesn’t; second, how Twitter can solve this issue today (literally, by the end of the day); and third, why “Verified Twitter” would print money for Twitter.
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Why Twitter Has A Trolling Problem: Pseudonyms
On Twitter you can do the following today:
- You can block people: If you do this they can’t follow your tweets and you don’t see them — and they know you’ve blocked them.
- You can mute people: If you mute people you never see them but they don’t know you’ve blocked them.
- You can set your account to private, in which case only your friends will see your tweets.
B.F. Skinner would be touched by number two, as it’s a clear hat tip to “extinction behaviors.” Blocking someone (#1) is a form of reinforcement of bad behavior, and I’ve seen that people who block each other are actually engaging a deeper, usually twisted relationship. Psychologists would have a field day with these things.
Of course, if you create @jasonisafatgreekbastard and I block you there is nothing stopping you from creating @youfatbastardjason the very next hour.
This is because Twitter is an open platform that allows pseudonyms — a.k.a., “a name you made up that is not your legal name.”