Twitter’s CEO in 2015 reportedly asked its media team to censor abusive tweets directed toward President Obama during a question-and-answer session, according to a report from BuzzFeed News.
Dick Costolo, who was chief executive at the time, reportedly told the team running the Q&A — which took place under the hashtag #AskPOTUS — to use an algorithm to filter out abusive comments. The team is also said to have censored messages manually.
The revelation came in a larger investigation into Twitter’s difficult history with handling abuse.
Costolo, though, denied the report Thursday as “sensationalist nonsense.”
“Total nonsense and laughably false as anybody who would speak on the record would tell you,” he said on Twitter. “Absurd.”
Twitter said there were “inaccuracies” in the story in a statement issued on Thursday.
“In response to today’s BuzzFeed story on safety, we were contacted just last night for comment and obviously had not seen any part of the story until we read it today,” Twitter said about the overall investigative report and the Costolo remark.
“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 added.
“There is a lot of work to do but please know we are committed, focused, and will have updates to share soon.”
The company has long struggled to rein in abuse on its platform, as its push for free speech clashed with repeated complaints by users about harassment. It told shareholders in February of plans to address the issue.
This “year we will implement technology to help us detect the use of repeat abusive accounts, make it much simpler to report multiple abusive Tweets or accounts, and give people simpler tools to curate and control their experience on Twitter,” the company said.
But issues persist on the platform. Earlier this summer, the actress and comedian Leslie Jones documented racist and sexist abuse sent to her on Twitter. The company banned conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos from its platform because it believed he was responsible for fomenting the harassment directed at Jones.