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  • Michael Kan

Twitter: We Know the Platform Is Toxic. Please Help Us Fix It.

Twitter knows it has a problem, and it's looking for help.

On Thursday, CEO Jack Dorsey confessed that his company failed to predict that Twitter would become a haven for harassment, abuse and propaganda campaigns. And now that it's a reality, he's not really sure what to do. So he's doing what Silicon Valley does best: crowdsource. He wants your ideas for how to help Twitter measure "conversational health" across the platform.

"If you want to improve something, you have to be able to measure it," he said in a tweetstorm that called for the public to submit proposals.

Twitter's CEO made the plea as the company has been cracking down on the abuse. It has shut down accounts blamed for spreading misinformation, racism and hate, and removed suspected bots. But the actions haven't been without controversy. Last week, the company faced backlash from right-wing pundits over fears that Twitter was silencing conservative voices.

The incident underscores an ongoing dilemma at Twitter and other social media platforms: safeguards can still end up inflaming hostilities. On Thursday, Dorsey admitted the service can be a divisive echo chamber.

"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 said. "This is the approach we now need."

Twitter's plan to measure the platform's conversational health presents a problem: How do you gauge something like that? Dorsey said he isn't sure. It's why he's asking for outside experts to submit proposals. "We simply can't and don't want to do this alone," he added.

To start, Twitter is taking inspiration from media analytics nonprofit Cortico, which "introduced us to the concept of measuring conversational health [and] came up with four indicators: shared attention, shared reality, variety of opinion, and receptivity."

Whether that approach works for Twitter remains to be seen. "What we know is we must commit to a rigorous and independently vetted set of metrics to measure the health of public conversation on Twitter," Dorsey wrote. "And we must commit to sharing our results publicly to benefit all who serve the public conversation."

Recently, rival Facebook also acknowledged that its platform can make people depressed. So it's now prioritizing content from friends and family since people report being happier when interacting with loved ones on Facebook rather than passively scrolling.

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