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Twitter the Place vs. Twitter the Company

Ringer illustration/Getty Images
Ringer illustration/Getty Images

Yesterday, June 21, in the Year of Our Petty Lord 2016, Twitter showed its goofy ass.

A social media manager at Good Morning America tweeted about memes. As if tweeting about memes weren’t bad enough, GMA got one meme’s name conspicuously wrong. It called a well-known image of Kermit the Frog sipping tea “Tea Lizard.”

The fallout: “Tea Lizard” trended, closely followed by humorless think pieces on the cultural implications of Tea Lizard. Somewhere, Kelly Ripa smiled. I’m not going to write a think piece on Tea Lizard (I would rather get torn to bits by actual lizards) except to say: I THINK that Tea Lizard is hilarious, and the response it provoked was even funnier. It was the best kind of Being Mad Online, because Good Morning America is a brand, and being mad at brands online is a victimless crime.

While Tea Lizard was happening, something even better went down. A Twitter user named @KingBeyonceStan delivered the wittiest music writing of the year in the form of an unimpeachable tweet thread titled “She doesn’t have the range.”

Both of these moments are, to me, clear evidence that Twitter is still a killer conversation-starter and writing outlet.

But that’s Twitter the place, not Twitter the company. As a company, it once again demonstrated how out of touch it is with its users. Twitter has a longstanding and serious user problem, and it’s not that brands winkingly misappropriate memes. A large enough segment of its users threaten and harass others on such a regular basis that it drives people off the platform, and there’s no good way to permanently expel egg-avatar diarrhea-dicks from its service. It’s the company’s most pressing dilemma.

So what is Twitter doing to cauterize abuse? Hard to say, but yesterday it introduced a standalone app called Engage, which The Verge described as “a safer space for celebrities to tweet.”

The app isn’t technically only for celebrities — anyone can use it — but the stripped-down version of Twitter is explicitly aimed at people with “fans.” It focuses on the “important” mentions from verified accounts or accounts you regularly interact with, plus more detailed analytics on how tweets are performing.

Engage sounds useful for both GMA’s social media manager and all of the Kardashians, but it’s mind-boggling that the company would choose to prioritize the launch of an app aimed at “influencers” instead of properly addressing abuse. Even weirder, Engage could be promoted as an alternative app for people who are constantly harassed on Twitter, since it will partially filter out abusive tweets. Twitter’s decision to promote Engage as a celebrity-oriented analytics app instead of something that could help everyone block harassment and abuse is another clear indication that the company is succeeding in spite of itself.