Boy some people are gullible. Of all the possible responses to the widely acknowledged problem of bullying on Twitter, pretty much the only one that is totally implausible is actually shutting the service down altogether. After all, this is a publicly traded company with thousands of employees, billions of dollars in stock, and a good claim to being the world’s second most social network.
But that’s what many Twitter users appeared to fear was happening on Wednesday, as the hashtag #SaveTwitter began trending on the microblogging platform in response to a rumor that, yep, CEO Jack Dorsey and his cohorts just decided to pull the plug on the whole thing. Sort of like when Ma Bell dismantled the entire infrastructure of the U.S. telephone network to stop prank calls – oh no wait, they didn’t do that because it would have been totally frickin’ insane.
Although the #SaveTwitter movement is above all testimony to the stupidity of a very large number of people, its wide currency is also a sad indication of how intractable the problem of bullying appears to be.
Indeed, millions of people seem to view Twitter, and other social media platforms, as a killer app for killing other people’s self-esteem and good names, with savage ad hominem attacks and malicious rumormongering. Celebrities predictably come in for more than their fair share of abuse, to quote Mick Jagger: last month the comedian Leslie Jones deleted her Twitter account after being subjected to a torrent of racist invective triggered by her appearance in the "Ghostbusters" remake.
Jones returned to Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey personally intervened by booting one of her main tormentors off the site. Meanwhile reports also circulated this week that former CEO Dick Costolo personally deleted abusive language during President Obama’s Q&A on the site. But it’s safe to say most non-celebrities can’t expect this kind of special attention.
Thus the big question remains: how do social media sites strike the right balance between free speech – which, after all, includes the right to criticize other people in potentially nasty ways – and maintaining their utility for people who don’t want to see a flood of racist, misogynist, homophobic or otherwise offensive epithets whenever they open their account? Not by shutting the site down, that’s for sure.