Twitter may have more serious issues than its downtime

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While we crack a lot of jokes about Twitter’s uptime and go on about its potential valuation, it’s easy to forget that as with many communication tools, there is the potential for real, troubling issues. One of those came to light today when Twitter user Ariel Waldman spoke out the harassment she is receiving from other users of the service.

The harassment, while horrible, isn’t the real story here. The story is Twitter’s complete and utter failure to do anything about it. As Waldman rightly notes in her piece on the issue, it very clearly states on Twitter’s own Terms of Service policy that: “You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users.” Yet in the multiple times this year that she has contacted Twitter representatives about abuses of this rule, she’s basically been blown off.

Waldman found herself sending Twitter reps explicit examples of abusive language directed towards her and in response (after a few days, mind you) she would receive back replies stating that while other users were in fact being “mean” to her, they weren’t doing anything wrong. I won’t repeat all the words thrown at her, but it certainly makes you question what Twitter’s definition of “abuse” is. Perhaps it means physical abuse over its online service?

Still, Waldman persisted with reporting abuses while remaining publicly silent about the ordeal and eventually found herself talking to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey (only after she copied him on one of her reports). According to Waldman, Dorsey told her that Twitter’s TOS was open to interpretation and asked what other services do with similar TOS violations. It just so happens that Twitter’s TOS is stated to be inspired by Flickr, the photo sharing service, and Waldman also had experience dealing with an abusive member there. When she told him that Flickr not only banned the user in question, but did so in a very quick manner, Dorsey supposedly went back to skirting around the issue and allegedly said he would have to talk to lawyers and would get back to her.

A few weeks passed with no response from Dorsey, so Waldman sent some new reports of absuse in to Twitter. Dorsey then allegedly responded with the following:

Ariel,

Apologies for the delay here. We’ve reviewed the matter and decided it’s not in our best interest to get involved. We’ve tasked our lawyers with a full review and update of our TOS.

Thank you for your patience and understanding and good luck with resolving the problem.

Best,
Jack.

Now that is some customer service. You have a clear TOS policy in place, which you refuse stick by and when a problem arises you look to change it. When the troubled user is persistent in their calls for help, you blow them off and wish them luck resolving the problem on their own.

You stay classy Twitter.

This also speaks to a larger issue Twitter has had. One dealing with customer service and of all things, communication. When Twitter goes down there is consistently a problem with letting users know what is going on. While it has gotten better at this recently, it’s still an issue, especially during times such as a few weeks ago where the service wasn’t actually down, but just wasn’t sending all of its messages out correctly.

As another user, Mike Doeff stated on Twitter earlier with regards to the Waldman situation, “it seems like Twitter is acting more like a phone co. operating a network vs a social network with community mgmt [management] obligations.”

It has to be noted that Ariel Waldman works for what is considered to be a Twitter rival, Pownce. It’s clear that doesn’t have anything to do with this situation, and in fact if Waldman was determined to bring down Twitter, she probably wouldn’t use Twitter as much as she does (3,903 updates, which is even more than myself, and I use the service a lot).

Twitter clearly has some issues that it needs to work out — and its downtime may be the least of them.

update: There is an official Get Satisfaction thread on the matter. Twitter’s Biz Stone has finally responded to the issue here.

update 2: Now there is an official post on the Twitter blog on the issue. Biz Stone reiterates that Twitter did not feel the harassment in question was a violation of the TOS. This sounds a lot like a famous statement: “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”


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