When Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, expressed his dissatisfaction with how much the company had done to prevent abuse and trolling on the social network leading up to the company’s earnings call, many wondered where it was coming from.

While some praised Costolo’s comments, others simply added them to the bold changes and pronouncements Twitter had been making over the past few weeks, as noted here by Business Insider. 

  • Kevin Weil -a longtime employee- was promoted to head of consumer products for Twitter, replacing the recently hired Googler, Daniel Graf who was subsequently demoted. The change was made with the aim of getting product changes out faster,
  • At its analyst’s day in November, Twitter projected it would grow to become one of the biggest internet companies measured by revenue in a matter of years,
  • It announced group direct messaging, the ability to post video straight to Twitter,
  • A deal with Google allowing real-time tweets to appear in search results,
  • As well as a new “instant timeline” for new users that fills with accounts to follow, and more.

All of these changes coming so quickly got people wondering whether this was Dick Costolo’s way of projecting an air of progress in the lead up to the company’s fourth quarter earnings.

Yet, calls for his firing have loomed over the CEO since late last year when he sold off 500,000 shares of Twitter, worth $US5.32 million while the share price was crashing.

One investor aired his grievances in an email to BI.

“Selling stock speaks louder than any words. As the CEO, how do you look the employees in the eye when you are busy grabbing a lifeboat? He has lost their respect, and obviously the respect of the market. The people who work at Twitter know the potential, and they know he is an obstacle to achieving it. He shouldn’t be running the company anymore.”

Immediately a number of Twitter board members including co-founders Jack Dorsey andEvan Williams came to Costolo’s defence.

Jack Dorsey tweeted:

“10/As for @dickc, our cofounder @ev rightly pointed out there isn’t a single person who has been thinking longer about Twitter than @dickc.”

[email protected] was one of our first angel investors, our advisor, our COO, the creator of our revenue engine, and our CEO who assembled the team.”

And then there’s Twitter’s actual Q4 earnings, which ended up beating Wall Street’s predictions hitting revenue of $US479 million as opposed to the expected $US452.6 million.

However, analysts have honed in on the company’s slowing user growth, up only slightly from Q3.

This is an issue facing a lot of established social networks including Facebook, as I wrote about recently.

Facebook has hit mass consumption, and as a result, there is very little room for it to grow.

However, it has the issue of a huge part of its user base becoming less engaged, and alienating the emerging  tween and teen audience.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a very different social network.

While Wall Street likes compare it to Facebook, Twitter is tiny in comparison and its goals are very different.

Facebook has grown to be a grinding necessity by many, which means a lot of users have profiles on the service (myself included), but don’t necessarily engage on it. I, like a lot of people I’m finding, only use as a way to contact people. And the way I contact those people is through Facebook Messenger, its ever popular messaging app available on iOS and Android.

In contrast, Twitter is more of an acquired taste. It’s not for everybody.

Over the years, it has seen its user base grow, but not by a stratospheric amount. It’s monthly active users at the time of its earnings are around 288 million vs Facebook’s numbers of over 1 billion.

The difference is that people who use Twitter, love Twitter. It’s a great place if you’re smart, funny, and engaging. It’s much more satisfying getting a favourite or retweet from a complete stranger who liked your joke than from a friend on Facebook who just ‘likes’ everything.

It’s a challenging platform to start off on as it can take a while to find your voice and audience, and not everybody has the stamina to tweet a lot, especially when they feel like no one’s reading them. But, figures have shown that most favourites and retweets will usually come from people who aren’t following you.

It’s not like Facebook, and that’s something the market needs to better understand.

As much as Twitter has grown and improved over the years, its problems of abuse remain.

In a memo obtained by The Verge, CEO Dick Costolo said:

On Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 8:35 PM, Dick Costolo wrote:

We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.

I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It’s absurd. There’s no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It’s nobody else’s fault but mine, and it’s embarrassing.

We’re going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them.

Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.

@dickc

Next to YouTube, Twitter is one of the most volatile social networks to be on at times.

During the recent #gamergate debacle, misogynistic abuse was hurled at a number of female game creators and journalists. And, recently a female Guardian journalist revealed that after the passing of her father, she was trolled on Twitter by an account which used her dad’s identity and picture.

Therefore, as much as it seems as if Dick Costolo was trying to silence his critics by announcing so much change in the lead up to Twitter’s earnings call, it shouldn’t be dismissed that the company is beginning to steady its finances. And, while user growth is slowing, Costolo announcing that he’s dissatisfied with the level of abuse on the social network expresses his intention to fix it.

If he can silence the trolls, he may well see the return of users who have been driven away. And, perhaps if that spawns a little bit of growth, he’ll silence his critics too.