Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wants the public’s help in measuring the health of conversations on Twitter in an effort to combat the widespread abuse and hostility on the service.
He asked users for suggestions on Thursday, saying that he wants to develop a system of metrics that would be used to determine what makes a Twitter conversation healthy. Like how doctors diagnose the health of their patients by checking things like body temperature, Twitter would use these metrics to diagnose the health of online conversations and, presumably, create a system that promotes more positive comments.
Dorsey acknowledged Twitter’s failure to rein in some of its most toxic users over the years, saying the company has “witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers.” While Twitter (TWTR) loves “instant, public, global messaging and conversation,” he said, the company “didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences.”
“We acknowledge that now, and are determined to find holistic and fair solutions,” Dorsey said.
Twitter has said several times that it would take steps to stop offensive comments. It started removing the verified status of popular users—indicated as a blue check mark on their profiles— who post racist comments. It also said it would suspend users who engage in “violent extremism.” But it hasn’t been enough.
Dorsey said that most of Twitter’s efforts to combat abusive posts involve punitive measures like “removing content” that violate the company’s terms. A better way to address the problems, Dorsey believes, would be to create “a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking.”
He said Twitter has been working with outside researchers like the media non-profit Cortico on ways to measure the health of public conversations. Cortico listed some of its proposed metrics in a separate post, which include the following:
Shared Attention: Is there overlap in what we are talking about?
Shared Reality: Are we using the same facts?
Variety: Are we exposed to different opinions grounded in shared reality?
Receptivity: Are we open, civil, and listening to different opinions?
Dorsey conceded that Twitter doesn’t know if Cortico’s proposed metrics are best ways to measure “conversation health.” He added that Twitter doesn’t “know how best to measure them, or the best ways to help people increase individual, community, and ultimately, global public health.”
Dorsey hopes that people will provide feedback about Twitter’s ideas for healthy conversations. Next week, he and other Twitter executives plans to discuss the topic in more detail with users through the company’s Periscope live video service.
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Not everyone is convinced that Dorsey’s plans will work.
Jillian York, the director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, criticized Dorsey’s new initiative, accusing him of failing to listen to his own staff that works on combating abuse.
Other Twitter users also criticized Dorsey’s plan.
Dorsey seems to have anticipated the skeptical response, and said that he doesn’t “believe this will be easy.”