Twitter CEO wants to study platform’s “health,” but is he ignoring the cancer?

Twitter CEO wants to study platform’s “health,” but is he ignoring the cancer?

That last part, about Twitter's apparent inabilities, resonates through the rest of the Thursday posts. A more holistic approach apparently began for Twitter by seeking outside counsel about "the health of public conversations." Dorsey pointed to the private research firm Cortico, who created a series of conversation "health" metrics based on its studies of Twitter data: shared attention; shared reality; variety; and receptivity. As more data and research pile up to point fingers at Twitter's biggest issues, there's also the matter of anecdotal evidence of the service's inherent issues. To harvest either of these possibilities, the service relies on aggregated, non-chronological content feeds (like most other free social-networking services). Dorsey's calls for conversation health metrics do not in any way appreciate the apparent next-level disruption tactic already being rolled out on Twitter this year: subtler, seemingly real accounts popping up with the express intent of passing those four metrics on their face. I have chronicled an apparent rise in this account type for the past few weeks at my own Twitter account, often finding accounts that have existed for as briefly as a few months or as long as nine years. Then, when it politically suits an operator, an account may start sharing politically divisive messages. And when these accounts' replies and RTs are in any way acknowledged by verified or bigger-ticket accounts, by being RTed, replied to, or quoted, there's no current way for Twitter to measure the health or harm of that interaction. One that lets a user say, for example, "this account has waded into a local-politics conversation in spite of having few authentic interactions with people or issues in my city."

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Is it too late to measure the “health” of Twitter?

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted a series of tweets on Thursday to concur with growing resentment about his platform—and to admit that Twitter is somehow not in a position to fix the problems he listed.

Dorsey’s tweet thread began with an all-too-familiar promise of “public accountability” (which is a clever thesaurus-twist of his usual “more transparent” promises), before then delivering what might be his most frank admission of Twitter’s woes:

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.

That last part, about Twitter’s apparent inabilities, resonates through the rest of the Thursday posts. Dorsey claimed that Twitter has been “accused of… optimizing for our business and share price instead of the concerns of society” and that the company has fallen behind in part by focusing on the removal of TOS-violating posts instead of “building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking.”

A more holistic approach apparently began for Twitter by seeking outside counsel about “the health of public conversations.” Dorsey pointed to the private research firm Cortico, who created a series of conversation “health” metrics based on its studies of Twitter data: shared attention; shared reality; variety; and receptivity. The metrics that Dorsey linked to describe behaviors, however, as opposed to a platform’s design—with phrases you’d expect from an elementary school etiquette chart like, “Are we open, civil, and listening to different opinions?”

Thus, Dorsey admitted that Cortico’s metrics might not fit what he seeks in “a rigorous and independently vetted set of metrics” regarding how Twitter users interact. He announced a grant of “meaningful funding” and Twitter data access for any research team that proposes what Twitter deems a worthy conversation-measurement plan.

But is it a cancer?

Dorsey’s tweetstorm juggles two seemingly disparate ideas: the company’s “inability” to contend with disruptions, abuse, and hatred, and its desperate call for outside help to measure the current state of events, as opposed to shoring up resources or building entirely new systems.

As more data and research pile up to point fingers at Twitter’s biggest issues, there’s also the matter of anecdotal evidence of the service’s inherent issues. I offer the following stories as an answer to Dorsey’s questions about Twitter’s health: its cancer may be incurable.

  • Every image in this gallery is a screencap I’ve taken of suspicious accounts on Twitter. This one is the most suspicious because… it’s a “Machkovech” who I cannot find any information about through family members.
  • This six-month-old account was awoken to post one thing about an Ars Technica article I wrote. I reported it following this reply and received no response from Twitter.
  • This account reposts and summarizes content from tech blogs as if it has a legitimate audience, but it has zero apparent authentic followers and no apparent signs of a legitimate start-up enterprise (e.g. a video channel). I nearly responded to its seemingly legitimate question about a game before finding its apparent troll-farm activity.
  • This account laid dormant for years…

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