Former Twitter CEO calls Obama Q&A censorship claims ‘sensationalist nonsense’

12 Aug 2016

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has responded to claims that the site censored tweets during a Q&A session with US President Barack Obama, calling them ‘sensationalist nonsense’.

The claims made against Twitter come following an extensive report by Buzzfeed into the inner workings of the social media company based on sources within the company.

One of the most damaging claims made against it alleged that during the Q&A session with the US president, Costolo had staff manually delete tweets deemed to be abusive of Obama.

Future Human

Do the tweets still flow?

Prior to the #AskPOTUS event, Costolo had Twitter’s engineers devise an algorithm capable of filtering out abusive language aimed at Obama, however, the addition of manual deleting of comments was deemed a step too far by a number of senior company employees.

The biggest problem, according to the sources who spoke with Buzzfeed, was that this was seen as a hindrance of free speech, despite a position put forward by senior company executives in 2011 that “the tweets must flow”.

In that blog post five years ago, Twitter’s co-founder, Biz Stone, made it quite clear that there were only two incidences in which tweets would be deleted.

“There are tweets that we do remove, such as illegal tweets and spam,” he said. “However, we make efforts to keep these exceptions narrow so they may serve to prove a broader and more important rule – we strive not to remove tweets on the basis of their content.”

Claims have also been made against Twitter by another source who spoke to Buzzfeed who said that it had engaged in similar censorship during a Q&A with Caitlyn Jenner.

Twitter responds

In response, Twitter has issued a brief statement on the allegations made by Buzzfeed and has denied all allegations of censorship.

“We feel there are inaccuracies in the details and unfair portrayals but rather than go back and forth with BuzzFeed, we are going to continue our work on making Twitter a safer place,” it read. “There is a lot of work to do but please know we are committed, focused, and will have updates to share soon.”

While now a venture partner with Index Ventures, Costolo has responded via Twitter to the allegations made against him and his tenure as Twitter CEO, going so far as to describe it as “sensationalist nonsense”.

Twitter mobile image I AM NIKOM/via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic