For Twitter’s CEO, a Series of Excuses and Request for Help

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When Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey wanted to explain one of his company’s most vexing problems and to ask the public for help, he turned to a series of overly long tweets to make his points. Whether the public will respond to trouble Twitter cannot handle on its own is an open issue. Twitter ought to be able to take on some of the issues Dorsey mentioned on its own.

The series of tweets said:

Why? We love instant, public, global messaging and conversation. It’s what Twitter is and it’s why we‘re here. But we didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences. We acknowledge that now, and are determined to find holistic and fair solutions

We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers. We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.

While working to fix it, we‘ve been accused of apathy, censorship, political bias, and optimizing for our business and share price instead of the concerns of society. This is not who we are, or who we ever want to be.

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. This is the approach we now need.

Recently we were asked a simple question: could we measure the “health” of conversation on Twitter? This felt immediately tangible as it spoke to understanding a holistic system rather than just the problematic parts

If you want to improve something, you have to be able to measure it. The human body has a number of indicators of overall health, some very simple, like internal temperature. We know how to measure it, and we know some methods to bring it back in balance.

Our friends at @cortico and @socialmachines introduced us to the concept of measuring conversational health. They came up with four indicators: shared attention, shared reality, variety of opinion, and receptivity.

We don’t yet know if those are the right indicators of conversation health for Twitter. And we don’t yet know how best to measure them, or the best ways to help people increase individual, community, and ultimately, global public health.

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. And we must commit to sharing our results publicly to benefit all who serve the public conversation.

We simply can’t and don’t want to do this alone. So we’re seeking help by opening up an RFP process to cast the widest net possible for great ideas and implementations. This will take time, and we’re committed to providing all the necessary resources.

We’re going to get a lot of feedback on this thread and these ideas, and we intend to work fast to learn from and share the ongoing conversations. @Vijaya, @mrdonut and I will do a Periscope next week to share more details and answer questions.

An RFP is a “request for proposal” put out for companies that want outside help to solve a problem.

Dorsey has 4.1 million followers on Twitter, so the response will be large, and scattershot. That means Twitter management will need to sort through a sea of responses, most of which will be useless.

Twitter might have been more focused, which would mean an effort to recruit experts to solve the problems and level millions of people who do not have any idea how to address the issue out of the matter. Dorsey didn’t. He made his problems public, and in the process showed how undisciplined Twitter is.