Anyone who spends time on Twitter quickly becomes aware that there are hordes of trolls who will swarm anyone who expresses an opinion on a controversial topic. This has been a thorn in the company’s side for some time, but it may also have turned away potential buyers.
Disney (DIS) and Salesforce.com both backed away from bidding for Twitter in part because of the service’s problem with offensive content, according to recent reports based on interviews with anonymous sources at both companies.
A Bloomberg report says one of Disney’s main concerns about a bid was that “bullying and other uncivil forms of communication on the social media site might soil the company’s wholesome family image, according to people familiar with management’s thinking.”
Troll-like behavior was also a concern for Salesforce (CRM) , according to CNBC host Jim Cramer, who said he spoke to the company’s CEO, Marc Benioff, about the problem.
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“What’s happened is, a lot of the bidders are looking at people with lots of followers and seeing the hatred,” Cramer said on his show. “I know that the haters reduce the value of the company…I know that Salesforce was very concerned about this notion.”
New York Times tech editor Quentin Hardy also said he spoke to Benioff about the issue, and he confirmed that trolls were part of the reason Salesforce dropped its bid.
Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitted last year that the company had failed to act quickly enough or decisively enough to limit abuse and harassment on the service.
“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years,” Costolo wrote in an internal memo. “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 many ways, Twitter (TWTR) is struggling with the same issues that the online community Reddit has. Once known for rampant abuse, which occurred in part because of a commitment to free speech, the company has been trying to clean up its standards for the past year or two.
Twitter has also talked in the past about being the “free speech wing of the free speech party,” and that commitment to unrestricted speech may have deterred the company from taking stronger measures to combat harassment.
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There were plenty of other reasons why both Disney and Salesforce—not to mention other potential bidders—might have lost interest in an acquisition of Twitter apart from the troll problem, of course.
For one thing, the company’s valuation, which hit $17 billion during the frenzy of takeover rumors, struck many investors and analysts as being out of sync with Twitter’s financial health. Although it had revenue of $2 billion in 2015, it lost more than $500 million.
Both Salesforce and Disney reportedly heard from significant shareholders who were concerned about either company making such a large investment for a company that is losing money and is not growing very quickly.
If it had been done at the $17 billion valuation, an acquisition of Twitter would have been the largest deal Disney has ever done, which many analysts said simply wasn’t justified by either the current or future business value of the company.