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Twitter is 'toxic' for advertisers, Citron Research says

Key Points
  • Citron Research reduced its price target for Twitter to $20 after an Amnesty International study showed the platform was "toxic" for women and was full of human rights violations.
  • The report says Twitter's abuse problems make it less attractive to advertisers.
Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence in use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Citron Research set a new $20 a share price target for Twitter on Thursday after an eye-opening report from Amnesty International alleged the platform was full of human rights abuses, especially toward women.

Calling Twitter "the Harvey Weinstein of social media," the Citron note said the platform will have to face hard questions from ad buyers who are concerned about social issues. Citron's Andrew Left had came out as short on Twitter in late March.

"Citron has been following Twitter for years and when we read the just published piece from Amnesty International, we immediately knew the stock had become uninvestable and advertisers will soon be forced to take a hard look at all sponsorships with Twitter," the Citron report said. 

Twitter shares were down as much as 12 percent Thursday.

Disgraced movie producer Weinstein has been charged in New York with sexual assault. Weinstein has steadfastly denied all allegations of unlawful, nonconsensual sexual activity.

The Amnesty International and Element AI study, which was released Tuesday, looked at millions of tweets from 778 U.K. and U.S. journalists and politicians made during 2017. Using artificial intelligence, it concluded that a "problematic" or "abusive" tweet was sent to one of the women every 30 seconds. It also found women of color were 34 percent more likely to be mentioned in troubling tweets than white women, with black women targeted the most. The abuse did not discriminate between liberal or conservative women.

"Twitter's failure to effectively tackle violence and abuse on the platform has a chilling effect on freedom of expression online and undermines women's mobilization for equality and justice – particularly groups of women who already face discrimination and marginalization," the study authors wrote.

In response to the note and report, Twitter pointed to its abuse behavior policy does not allow for harassment, intimidation and silencing of other users. The company also noted it has introduced more than 50 policy, product and operational changes between 2017 and 2018 to address the issues. In its latest Transparency Report, Twitter said fewer than 1 percent of accounts make up the majority of the abuse on its platform.

In addition, the company said it has served as a place for the #MeToo movement and subsequent discussions. More than 17.1 million tweets from more than 90 countries have been posted on Twitter as of Dec. 1.

Before the Amnesty International report was released, Twitter's legal, policy and trust and safety global lead Vijaya Gadde told the organization its study was unclear on how it defined and identified "problematic" content.

"Context matters when evaluating abusive behavior and determining appropriate enforcement actions," he wrote. "Factors we may take into consideration include, but are not limited to whether: the behavior is targeted at an individual or group of people; the report has been filed by the target of the abuse or a bystander; and the behavior is newsworthy and in the legitimate public interest."

Citron took another look at Twitter stock, given the recent declines Facebook has encountered due to privacy and management issues. It said Twitter faces the same privacy regulation rules that Facebook is encountering, noting it generated $108 million in revenue from user data licensing last quarter, or about 80 percent of its total profits.

"Citron believes this story has just begun and advertisers will be forced to make more morality-based brand building decisions," the note says.

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Twitter aims to curb online abuse