The Slow Decline of Twitter 

I’ve used Twitter since 2007, I think. I’ve got over 6000 tweets. When Twitter is at its best, it’s right in the sweet spot for me. Unfortunately, due to what is either poor or uninterested leadership, or fear of a market correction to their share price, Twitter is rarely at its best lately.

It’s far more often a cesspool of racism, misogyny, false information, bullying, and everything bad that happens when under the veil of anonymity. Whatever parts of Twitter aren’t filled with vile content are talking about Twitter’s lack of response to that content.

You can’t shake a stick without finding an article talking about Twitter’s issues, or how they’re trying to deal with them, or how they’re trying to look like they’re trying to deal with them.

To me, it really does look like they’re trying to look like they’re trying to deal with them, doing the minimum they can that won’t materially change their monthly active users, assuming that this will blow over.

I think that’s a) idiotic, and b) just a shitty way to deal with a real problem.

Naively, I think Twitter’s problems boil down to two major things:

The automation side is to make it easier to identify and highlight the (often) garbage posts that come out of bots. It seems to me that if Twitter highlighted (visually and via the API) posts that came through it’s API (i.e. automated posts) that people would start to discount their content. Sure, for folks who do scheduled tweets, they’d show up differently, but now someone would likely need to build up trust with their followers to take the automated posts with the same validity as their normal posts.

And, when someone wants to create a new bot, they’ll need to spend time manually building up their authority, which is, in theory, at least a deterrent to creating bots at scale that are intended for deception.

Now, of course, you can automate posting through browser automation, but that’s slower, harder to scale, and more fragile. This is one of those simple, low hanging fruit changes that has little impact to users, but at least makes creating deceptive bots more difficult.

(This doesn’t take into account a bunch of the simple fraud things that Twitter should be doing anyway, like additional checks on users with lots of digits in their name or where the signup is coming from a VPN or non-residential network.)

The identity issue is about making it harder for people to be assholes. You get less (not zero, but less) assholes on Facebook because their actual name is listed right next to their comments. Twitter (and Reddit, to be honest) should do something with accounts that haven’t somehow verified their identity. Identify verification isn’t an easy problem to solve, but there are possibilities:

There’s probably a whole lot of other ways to do this. Again, you’re not trying to solve the problem outright. You’re just trying to make it hard enough that it’s not worth the manual effort to setup fake accounts. And making it clear enough to users that they aren’t anonymous so threatening violence or harm to other user’s is going to be linked back to you.

When people have their comments and behavior tied directly to their identity, it makes it a lot harder to be a complete asshole. It’s how you lose your job or embarrass your family.

None of this is rocket science. It’s a tradeoff between “freedom of speech” with complete anonymity and “freedom of speech” where you own your words. Somehow Twitter and Reddit think anonymity is needed for free speech as if they’re the only outlets for someone to speak anonymously.

Really, it is Twitter not wanting to lose users (even if they are fake) to disappoint Wall Street.

I started writing this a few days ago. Before I could finish it, Twitter announced upcoming changes for handling abuse. THey’re all reactive. They’re all based off of humans responding to abuse. There’s nothing proactive about it.

Oh yeah, and the other news this week? Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey retweeted a Russian bot. You seriously can’t make this shit up.

There’s a lot of smart people at Twitter. I’m sure there are people there who have great ideas on how to stop the abuse. I hope that those ideas are being worked on and not being stymied by the financial interests of the company. Because if Twitter keeps alienating its core users, there won’t be a company (at least an independent one) in the future.