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Twitter’s toxicity problem can’t be fixed, NYT’s Farhad Manjoo says

But Twitter is also a mandatory part of the job of media professionals, Manjoo says on Recode Decode.

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New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo Kimberly White / Getty Images for The New York Times

New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo has written numerous articles, starting in 2015, about the “Frightful Five,” five extremely powerful U.S. tech companies: Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. But for Manjoo and others in the media, one of the companies not on that list has a huge amount of unspoken power: Twitter.

“I can’t think of how you remove the journalism business from Twitter because it’s become part of how newsrooms work,” he said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher.

Speaking to Swisher in front of a live audience at the University of California Berkeley’s journalism school in March, Manjoo explained that Twitter’s lax attitudes about real identity and high usage by journalists like him make it the perfect breeding ground for media manipulation.

“It’s where the alt-right got a lot of its power, by talking to journalists, trolling journalists there, changing the media narrative there,” he said. “That’s why talking about bots is important because, on Twitter, you don’t really know who’s real and who isn’t.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Manjoo drew a contrast between Facebook’s attempts to solve problems of “fake news” and Twitter’s habit of being “completely negligent” when called on to fix problems around harassment, trolling and other forms of abuse.

“You can report terrible stuff that happens on Twitter and they will either take it down late or not take it down at all,” he said. “Instead of the Mark Zuckerberg apology post, you get the Jack Dorsey ‘we’re trying’ tweetstorm that then never materializes into actual policy.”

So, what could be done to fix Twitter’s attractiveness to media manipulators and trolls? It couldn’t go on forever, right?

“I mean, it could,” Manjoo said.

“I can’t think of a good fix for Twitter,” he added. “You can think of ways for Facebook to fix its problem — not easily, but Facebook could hire a lot of journalists, Facebook could whitelist news sites, or just what they’ve done recently, which is remove a lot of news from the News Feed. Twitter has kind of gone the other way; they’re deeper into news than before, while Facebook and Snapchat have decided, ‘We’re going to separate news from how people are talking about news.’”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • On Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, we answer the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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