Dick Costolo’s Joke Bombs, on Twitter

Dick-Costolo-002Over the weekend, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo finally did something that millions of Twitter users have done before him: He tweeted a comment that’s attracting unwanted attention

The tweet was prompted by a New York Times report that Twitter has just one woman among its top officials. The story includes comments from academic Vivek Wadwha, who ascribed Twitter’s gender imbalance to “elite arrogance” and the “same male chauvinistic thinking” that permeates Silicon Valley. Costolo took to Twitter Friday night to call Wadwha the “Carrot Top of academic sources.”

 

Coming from anyone else, the tweet might have been mildly amusing if a bit mean-spirited — typical Twitter fare, in short. Coming from Costolo, it was a surprising misstep. Twitter is in its quiet period. Within weeks, it will be a public company. So why not just keep quiet until then?

In shooting the messenger and not addressing the message itself, Costolo also inadvertently helped feed people’s worst perceptions of Twitter, including that it’s not always a friendly place to hang out. As Josh Constine observed in a recent TechCrunch piece, many users already avoid or abandon Twitter because of its competitive undertones and the pressure they feel to be “thought leaders.”

Half a day after Costolo published his tweet, one such thought leader, the blogger-entrepreneur Anil Dash, decided to challenge him on it. Tweeting to his 477,525 followers, Dash said that he was “sorely disappointed to see @dickc respond defensively to criticisms of industry sexism. Why not just lead, as Twitter does on free speech?”

After a few defensive exchanges with Dash and others on the topic, Costolo suggested that he’s very mindful of the gender issue at Twitter, tweeting: “I *think* I have an acute understanding of the topic & host of related issues. Of course, proof is in deeds.”  (In a display of deference to Costolo that has also become de rigueur among Twitter’s most astute users, Dash “favorited” each of Costolo’s responses before responding to them.)

 

Whether there will be lingering damage from Costolo’s tweet remains to be seen. Plenty of people have lost their jobs over less, but Twitter doesn’t seem inclined to ditch its star CEO any time soon.

As for Carrot Top, a comic long known for his red hair and his use of props, no one yet knows how he feels about being dragged into the conversation. His publicity team didn’t respond to questions sent to them yesterday.

It’s worth noting that Costolo himself once tried to be a stand-up comic, an effort that led to zero job offers, as he shared during an on-stage interview in May. “It was one part of [my career] strategy,” he’d said, as the crowd erupted with laughter.

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