On the one hand: good. Twitter has a harassment problem, and it’s nice to see the company even so much as acknowledge it in any kind of public way.
On the other hand: a non-zero number of people have been asking why it took the death of a famous white guy in order to prompt this “review”, when handfuls of lesser-known people receive deluges of the same sort of behaviour every day?
First of all, in case it’s not obvious: this isn’t about Williams, father or daughter. What happened to Zelda Williams in the wake of her father’s death was awful, and she and her family deserve the right to grieve however they want to, in public or in private, without being subjected to bile.
This is not about that. This is about Twitter.
Why did it take such a high-profile incident as this one to push the company into action? Because Twitter, above all else, is in the business of selling eyeballs. And celebrities bring eyeballs.
That’s it. That’s the reason.
Some feminists with a few thousand followers get rape threats and leaves the service? Meh. Why does Twitter care, again? But upset the Hollywood machine–start losing the people with followers in the millions, or the brands and companies they work with–and the service is dead. Because Twitter is not a social network, contrary to popular belief; it’s an advertising, data mining, and content pushing platform. It has to be, by definition, because that’s its business model. It makes money in no other way. The fact that Twitter also facilitates some social network-like interaction is a corollary to its actual purpose, which is to blast you with “promoted” (read: bought and sold) tweets and hashtags.
People leave Twitter for two reasons: boredom and harassment. Having famous people using the service alleviates the first because, for whatever reason, people like following their pet celebs (or brands, companies, news outlets, etc.). Meaning that when Big Names start pulling out of the game due to the second, the chances their halos of followers pull out because of the first increases. After all, people don’t need Twitter for talking to friends and family they already know, or posting photos of their lunch; that’s what Facebook and Instagram are for.
Celebrities are Twitter’s cash cows. Its draw card. That’s why it can’t lose them. And yes, this is just one woman, but she’s one woman with an experience that’s symptomatic of something Twitter doesn’t want its brand to be known for (an unsafe space for famous people, if you’re wondering, note emphasis).
Hence the “review”.1
If all that sounds incredibly cynical to you… Well. That’s business.
- It’s worth noting that, in the months since this was announced, Twitter has actually done pretty much fuck-all. I’m sure approximately 0% of people are surprised. ↩