Let's not praise Twitter for reaching a profit. Let's bury it
A view from Andy Pemberton

Let's not praise Twitter for reaching a profit. Let's bury it

Twitter's business has recently stabilised. Society has not. I think these two facts are linked.

Twitter just posted a significant decline in users. It shed a stonking nine million of them in the last quarter. 

(Users totalled a peak of 336 million earlier this year, so these new numbers put the user base below the 330 million mark.)

Despite this news, the social media platform has moved into profit for the first time in 10 years, while its share price has just ticked upwards. What is going on?

The reason for the recent drop, according to Twitter, is that it has been "cleaning up" its user base.

It has booted off Russian bots – the ones that tweeted they were setting fire to their Nike trainers after the Colin Kaepernick ads. It has also kicked off spammers – the ones that push all those diet supplements.

Result: fewer users, but more money. In the past four quarters, Twitter’s net profit has risen to just over $1bn (£785m). In the four quarters before that, Twitter lost $367m.

Twitter’s business has stabilised. Yay! But wait – what’s this? The social fabric in coming apart, you say. Could these two facts be in any way linked?

I think, under the flag of free speech, Twitter has put profits before the well-being of its own nation.

Despite daily violation of its terms of use, Donald Trump remains the star turn on the platform, bullying and trolling an entire nation.

Having the president of the US as the breakout user of your social media sounds good. Except when it is Trump effectively paying your bills. What you gain in engagement, you lose in brand equity, you might say.

Because he must be kept happy, so must the 52 million trolls who follow him. These right-wing blowhards have stoked so much far right outrage, they have made it Twitter’s default emotional setting.

Following the deadly attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, typing the hashtag symbol and the letter B led to auto-complete suggestions that included "hashtag #burnthejews".

A study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in March found that falsehoods on Twitter were 70% more likely to be retweeted than accurate news.

Partisan posts on Twitter were partly responsible for radicalising Cesar Sayoc Jr, who was charged last week with sending explosive devices to prominent Democrats.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel has spotted the spread of a false meme on Twitter suggesting that George Soros – a Holocaust survivor – was a Nazi. Soros was sent a pipebomb, too, you will recall.

Way back in August, when other platforms banned the right-wing conspiracy nut and Infowars head Alex Jones, Twitter did not. It only nixed him two weeks later, once everyone else declared him beyond the pale. 

Similarly, the letter-bomb campaign suspect was reported to Twitter for having made a direct threat against a political commentator two weeks ago, but Twitter simply responded that he hadn't violated the company's terms of service. 

Twitter only took down the account after the accused bomber was in custody and it eventually apologised for not taking action sooner. 

"We made a mistake when Rochelle Ritchie first alerted us to the threat made against her," a spokesperson bleated. "The tweet clearly violated our rules and should have been removed. We are deeply sorry for that error."

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, whom I am sure is an honourable man, recently admitted that although the company’s long-time principle was free expression, it was discussing how "safety should come first".

How, indeed. It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone needs an editor. But how do you edit 330 million users? Social media’s stock response is: "With artfiical intelligence." Which is obviously a heck of a lot easier to say than to follow through on.

Because AI may be great at spotting photos containing naked people, but so far it’s been pretty lame at the altogether trickier task of detecting hate speech.

Over at Facebook, only 38% of hate speech was flagged by its internal systems. In contrast, its systems took down 96% of what it defined as adult nudity and 99.5% of terrorist content.

But, according to Twitter, it will do everything it can to restore proper balanced debate: "Progress in this space is tough, but we’ve never been as committed and as focused in our efforts. Serving public conversation and trying to make it healthier is our singular mission here."

Sorry, I don’t buy it.

If Twitter can’t or won’t stop spreading race hate, perhaps it's time to put this platform out of our collective misery.

Andy Pemberton is director at Furthr