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Nobody knows what a Twitter free of trolls, fake news and bots would look like. Its plan to enlist outside help to detoxify its platform may prove beneficial to everybody but it could also be a sign of how badly mired it is in muck,  writes Louis Matsakis for Wired.  

Twitter announced that it has started a new initiative that will measure the health of its platform and discover new ways of preventing abuse and spam, and foster friendly debates and conversation. It is accepting study proposals from experts until April 13, 2018, to define what health means for the company. Those whose proposals will be selected will be given a financial grant and access to its user data.

The initiative has the support of CEO Jack Dorsey who tweeted that they did not fully understand the negative consequences of Twitter but they are committed to finding fair and holistic solutions to address its problems.

The proposals should focus on four metrics: shared attention, shared reality, variety of opinion and receptivity, which were culled from Cortico, a non-profit research organization affiliated with the MIT Media Lab. Twitter said that these four indicators are not final but represent one way to measure the health of its platform.

Susan Catherine Herring, a professor of Information Science at Indiana University, said the metrics could be used to study if people are talking about the same things by analyzing the keywords they use. But she added that researchers might have difficulties with the shared reality metric. Herring said there is a bias in that indicator because it assumes people know what the facts are and that they are using the same facts.

It also remains to be seen how the initiative will fit into Twitter’s business goals because it is entirely possible that shareholders will not be receptive to whatever solution Twitter uses to make itself less toxic. For instance, anti-harassment measures adopted by social media platforms became ineffective when factors such as growth metrics or commitment to advertisers were taken into consideration.