Jack Dorsey.Photo: AP
Right-wingers have long been obsessed with the notion Silicon Valley liberals are conspiring to censor them on social media. But it's reached a fever pitch recently, with US Republicans decrying Google's fact-checking modules and its firing of workplace sexist James Damore, pretty much anything Facebook does to slow down right-leaning hoaxes and propaganda, and purges of suspected bot accounts on Twitter.
All of these companies take pain to present themselves as simply the unbiased operators of the digital public square, which in practice usually means trying to placate whoever is angriest at them at any given moment. For Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, that means trying to reassure top conservatives that they're not being censored, and according to the Washington Post, he's been on a marathon dinner tour trying to calm down prominent Republicans concerned "their social feeds are subject to secret political engineering":
The Twitter executive convened a rare private dinner with Republican leaders and conservative commentators in Washington last week at Cafe Milano, a familiar Georgetown haunt for city power brokers, according to four people who participated in the dinner but spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was off the record. The gathering came weeks after Dorsey provoked conservatives' ire by tweeting a story suggesting voters should elect Democrats in November — and after he made his first official visit to Congress.
Among those attending the June 19 dinner were Mercedes Schlapp, a top communications adviser for President Trump; Grover Norquist, the leader of Americans for Tax Reform; television host Greta Van Susteren, and Guy Benson, a Fox News commentator, according to the people in the room.
That's not all. The Post reported Dorsey has been meeting with such other right-wing figures as Sean Hannity, the Fox News host who regularly uses Twitter for such purposes as getting whackos to record themselves smashing Keurigs, and Sen. Ted Cruz:
Along with the gathering in D.C., Dorsey also hosted a dinner in New York City with local conservative media leaders, two attendees confirmed. Dorsey has consulted with Fox News host Sean Hannity, a public ally of Trump. And the Twitter executive has made two trips to assuage Republicans on Capitol Hill during the past two months, including a sit-down last week with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, who has publicly blasted the tech industry for anti-conservative bias. Cruz's office did not respond to a request for comment.
As the Post noted and anyone on the site can plainly observe, "Republicans are some of their most popular users."
This won't work, because right-wingers' Twitter censorship concerns are not good-faith ones. The conservative movement has been, for decades, increasingly obsessed with an insular set of grievances — ones they have little to no interest in actually resolving, because yelling about them is how they fuel the interest of the rank-and-file of the Republican Party. Trying to please people whose don't want to be pleased, merely indulged in their displeasure, is futile.
Trying to please people who don't want to be pleased is a losing strategy. Legacy media and social media companies fall for this con EVERY SINGLE TIME. https://t.co/gwA6Cq1eW3
— Jeffrey Young (@JeffYoung) June 27, 2018
— Patrick Monahan (@pattymo) June 27, 2018
Conservatives who met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said:
1) Twitter can't be neutral if Dorsey expresses his personal opinions about immigration & gay rights on Twitter
2) Twitter should hire more people who say in job interviews that they vote Republican https://t.co/yb6tDUXuwz pic.twitter.com/o5cxIvKodo
— Hamza Shaban (@hshaban) June 27, 2018
This is so dumb why validate the ill intentioned bad faith whining of conservatives over bias that doesn’t exist https://t.co/yF7l6SwMiC
— Joel Pavelski (@joelcifer) June 27, 2018
Dorsey could be trying to achieve the same kind of result as Facebook is apparently attempting to accomplish with their recently announced conservative audit. Namely, that's getting some high-profile conservatives to give the site a clean bill of health in the hopes this stupid controversy can move elsewhere without resulting . But this is essentially feeding the trolls, and once they know Dorsey is willing to feed them, all that's likely to kick off is a feedback cycle where they push more and more grievances in order to demand further concessions. For example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's attempts to redress unfounded claims of censorship by conservative personalities Diamond and Silk only led to Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee holding a whole damn panel on it.
This is particularly frustrating because while Twitter does curate content, it does so on a far less micromanaged level than Facebook, which assembles complicated algorithmic feeds and thus has implicitly more consequential editorial standards. The majority of claims of censorship on Twitter have to do with how it handles harassment and trolling — admittedly a total mess, but Twitter has time and again proven particularly unwilling to risk outrage by penalising users who drive some of the worst behaviour on the site.
In Twitter's case, that has led to it repeatedly bungling large-scale harassment campaigns and tacitly creating an environment in which trolls, particularly far-right ones, thrive. As the Washington Post observed in 2016, Twitter coddled right-wing outrage artists like Milo Yiannopoulos and Chuck C. Johnson for years even as they directed their followers to harass their perceived enemies. And any time there are consequences for people like that on Twitter, Republicans get mad, like the time Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai claimed a de-verification effort aimed at white supremacists was emblematic of systemic bias.
As the Post wrote, Dorsey's attempts to placate conservatives at the June 19th dinner simply resulted in more grousing and demands Twitter taking hiring Republicans as seriously as hiring women and minorities:
In response, the Twitter executive heard an earful from conservatives gathered at the table, who scoffed at the fact that Dorsey runs a platform that's supposed to be neutral even though he's tweeted about issues like immigration, gay rights and national politics. They also told Dorsey that the tech industry's efforts to improve diversity — after years of criticism for maintaining a largely white, male workforce — should focus on hiring engineers with more diverse political viewpoints as well, according to those who dined with him in D.C.