Essays on Technology and Culture

Why Would Anyone Invest in Twitter Now?

I typically don’t care for the financial side of the tech industry. As long as the companies I patronize make enough money to keep making the products and running the services I use every day, the specifics of the profits and loss statements for the quarter don’t matter to me. Let alone the damn stock price. Maybe if I had enough money to play the markets, that would change, but it’s doubtful.

But one company did announce earnings yesterday that caught my attention—Twitter. Their revenue is down, their monthly active users have plateaued, and their stock price has responded in kind.

Is this a surprise to anyone? Twitter’s revenue is dependent on advertisers, and user growth is dependent on a positive view of the company. Right now, Twitter has a whole lot of neither, right now, owing in no small part to Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones’s very public experience with abuse on Twitter. This itself is just another example of the endless harassment problem on Twitter that first blew up with GamerGate, but goes back far longer than that.

What advertiser would sign on to have their message run on a network that has the valid perception of being loaded with abuse and harassment? Even Twitter’s in-house solution for its users to buy promotion on the platform has no abuse oversight. Early on, noted neo-Nazi troll weev managed to get a white supremacist message into a promoted tweet. After opening the account verification process to users, a phishing scam managed to get a promoted tweet through. At least it’s not just abusers Twitter doesn’t care about.

Sarah Jeong, in her excellent book The Internet of Garbage, made a point that resonates hard in the recent Twitter news:

When people are invested in the community, the community will police and enforce norms, but when unrepentant bad actors are never banished or are able to reproduce their presence at an alarming rate (sockpuppeting), community trust and investment will evaporate.

I don’t trust Twitter, and a growing number of people in my timeline feel the same way. And there’s no shortage of people posting ways in which Twitter can improve. It’s practically a cottage industry. So far, after two years of promises, Twitter has barely made even the tiniest dent in the problem, and I’m counting banning Milo as part of that.

We haven’t up and left yet, but I’ve seen grumblings. I created a new account on App.Net, not because I’m worried Twitter is going to go under or get bought out… just to get ahead of the exodus if it happens again.

What has happened is advertisers are showing they want nothing to do with Twitter’s nonsense. Without new users and without advertisers, Twitter is dead in the water. And nobody is likely to pay for a moribund service with an abuse problem and declining revenues. Well, maybe Verizon.

Maybe, just maybe, a crashing stock price combined with the bad press over Leslie Jones’s harassment will be enough to either get Jack Dorsey to make fixing Twitter’s harassment problem a priority. I have my doubts. At this point, the apathy and disdain for dealing with abuse at Twitter is embedded in the culture.

Those in the community around preventing online abuse who have connections at Twitter say there are people there who do carer and are working hard. I don’t doubt it. I just doubt the ability of Twitter’s corporate bureaucracy to let them do their work and make the changes so desperately needed to make Twitter a useful platform again.

I want to be proven wrong. And so do many, many other Twitter users.