There’s a dark space on the Internet where crass remarks, seemingly fueled by hatred for hatred’s sake, live and thrive. They stem from “trolls” — the term given to those who spew insults to people on Twitter, YouTube, in the comments section, and elsewhere online for no clear reason.
Recently, blogger Lindy West recounted a tale on This American Life of her real-life confrontation with a Twitter troll who impersonated her dead father to harass her, and then eventually apologized for his actions.
West wrote about the experience Monday in her column for the Guardian, specifically mentioning Twitter and its hands-off approach to intervening in the barrage of daily harassment.
“I’m aware that Twitter is well within its rights to let its platform be used as a vehicle for sexist and racist harassment,” wrote West. “But, as a private company – just like a comedian mulling over a rape joke, or a troll looking for a target for his anger – it could choose not to. As a collective of human beings, it could choose to be better.”
The column reached the eyes of Twitter. In an internal email exchange that The Verge obtained and published Wednesday night, CEO Dick Costolo said he takes “full responsibility” for the social network’s failure to appropriately deal with these harassers.
“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.”
In December, Twitter announced an improved process for users to report abuse. The update came on the heels of #GamerGate — a conversation saturated in sexism and rape threats targeted at female video-gamers.
It’s unclear, though, if this change has curtailed the violent commentary. If you’re doubtful, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian shared a collection of misogynistic tweets directed at her as recently as January.
Even more unclear is how, and if, any online sphere can stop the rise of cyberbullying. Several sites over the past couple of years have removed their comments sections for this very reason. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and for now, Twitter remains one of those frequented outlets to express rage.