Sunday, March 04, 2018

Twitter In The Crosshairs: Is We Sick Boss?


Stakes is High with all these global governance challenges....,

WaPo  |  Twitter is sick. And it’s sorry for infecting you. Oh, and — do you have an aspirin?

That was the gist of Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey’s mea culpa this week. In a series of tweets Thursday, Dorsey confessed that the company “didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences” of the instant, public and global messaging it pioneered. “We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough,” he said. “We’ve focused most of our efforts on removing content against our terms, instead of building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking.” 

Dorsey is asking the public to help Twitter get better. It is inviting outside experts to submit proposals for ways to define and measure the “health” of conversation on the platform, presumably as a first step toward improving it. As a first attempt, Dorsey has suggested four metrics based on the work of an MIT-affiliated nonprofit: shared attention (is there overlap in what we’re talking about?); shared reality (are we using the same facts?); variety (are we exposed to different opinions grounded in shared reality?); and receptivity (are we open, civil and listening to different opinions?). 

It is good to see that Twitter is finally acknowledging its ill health. It is even better to hear it’s open to intervention. The problem is that the service may be too far gone to recover — and it is unclear whether this initiative is a last gasp or a real attempt to change.

The reasoning behind this proposal is probably not just a noble commitment to public health. Platforms such as Twitter have clearly realized that if they don’t begin to self-correct, the government is going to do it for them through regulations that may not be as gentle as those they would impose on themselves. And in the long run, the flaws in their systems represent an existential threat worth getting ahead of. Being seen as a destroyer of democracy and a net negative to public trust isn’t exactly great branding. A short-term cure, if painful, might offer the inoculation that platforms such as Twitter need for long-term survival.