Twitter CEO Gets Called Out for Lackluster Abuse Policies During Live Twitter Q&A

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo gestures during a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 8, 2014. Robert Galbraith/Reuters

A live Q&A with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo took an unexpected turn when the top executive was met with hundreds of tweets charging him with failing to respond to abuse and harassment reports on the microblogging platform.

The hashtag #AskCostolo began as planned early Tuesday afternoon, when CNBC announced that Costolo would answer questions from Twitter users before a 4 p.m. interview on the network:

Our @JBoorstin interviews Twitter CEO @DickC today at 4p ET. Use #AskCostolo to ask a question.

— CNBC (@CNBC) July 29, 2014

Soon after the chat was announced, a handful of outspoken Twitter feminists urged their followers to join in a protest of Twitter's infamously lax abuse policies. By midafternoon, the resulting complaints made up a significant portion of the #AskCostolo tweets, including charges that Twitter had all but ignored death and rape threats. Some of these came from heavily followed Twitter users like Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffery and programmer/speaker Ashe Dryden:

Dear @dickc: I once got threats so bad they got written up in @nytimes & @SFGate. Only then did @support take action and... #askcostolo

— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) July 29, 2014

Black people comprise 25% of your users. Yet you aren't doing anything to prevent them from being serially harassed. Why not? #askcostolo

— 🍁Imani Gandied Yams🍁 (@AngryBlackLady) July 29, 2014

Why aren’t death and rape threats a violation of Twitter’s abuse policies? #askcostolo

— ashe dryden (@ashedryden) July 29, 2014

By CNBC's count, 28.17 percent of #AskCostolo tweets concerned abuse, while another 3.64 percent involved safety concerns. Others trolled the top boss with more philosophical inquiries:

You'd think the head of the company that invented the hashtag would recognize how easily hashtags can be hijacked for less brand-friendly purposes, but perhaps not. Costolo did have a vague reply at the ready when asked about user security by CNBC host Kelly Evans.

"We have a whole product team focused on user safety and privacy," he said, "and we'll continue to invest in that as we become increasingly the world's information network. Obviously, it's the case that we need to take that seriously and address it."

"Working on that very issue with the team this morning," he tweeted in reply to Twitter user @ashedryden's question about harassment on Wednesday. Those who reported their abuse to the company months ago still await the "team's" results.

Correction: This article originally stated that tweets about Twitter's abuse and harassment policies came "primarily from female users." It's been pointed out that quite a few came from men as well.