Twitter CEO on Banning Trump: Online Speech Can Cause Harm Offline

Twitter CEO on Banning Trump: Online Speech Can Cause Harm Offline
White supremacist Donald J. Trump speaks to the media before departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on January 12, 2021. (Image: Mandel Ngan, Getty Images)

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey finally gave this thoughts on Wednesday about the decision to ban President Donald Trump from the platform, explaining that the move wasn’t easy and that he takes no pride in banning anyone. But Dorsey acknowledged there can be real harm from speech that happens online and he believes permanently suspending Trump’s account was the right decision during a time of “great uncertainty” even if it sets a “dangerous” precedent.

“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here,” Dorsey tweeted Wednesday night in the first of a 12-tweet thread. “After a clear warning we’d take this action, we made a decision with the best information we had based on threats to physical safety both on and off Twitter. Was this correct?”

“I believe this was the right decision for Twitter,” Dorsey continued. We faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance, forcing us to focus all of our actions on public safety. Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all.”

Trump still has the ability to post on the @POTUS account, as he did on Wednesday, releasing a video where he denounced violence in a general sense but still failed to concede that he lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden. The president’s personal account was banned last week after he incited an insurrectionist mob to descend on the Capitol, killing five people.

Dorsey went on to say he believes every ban is somehow a failure of Twitter rather than an individual user. How so? The Twitter co-founder explained that he wants to “promote healthy conversation” and when that doesn’t happen he seems to take it personally.

“That said, having to ban an account has real and significant ramifications. While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation. And a time for us to reflect on our operations and the environment around us,” wrote Dorsey.

Dorsey has previously received criticism for allowing extremist voices on his platform and Twitter’s rules have changed dramatically during the course of the Trump presidency. In 2016, when Trump was still running for office, the only things that might get you banned were targeted harassment, like when far-right troll Milo Yiannopolous was banned in July 2016 for unleashing a racist online mob on comedian Leslie Jones.

Today, Twitter officially bans things like Holocaust denial and direct calls for violence, but there are still plenty of neo-Nazis on the platform. The social media company has resisted calls for it to ban white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis.

“Having to take these actions fragment the public conversation,” Dorsey continued about the ban on Trump’s account. “They divide us. They limit the potential for clarification, redemption, and learning. And sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

That last part about a “dangerous” precedent has been seized upon by libertarians like journalist Glenn Greenwald, who believes so-called censorship by Big Tech is a larger threat to the world than a mob of violent fascists trying to take over the U.S. government.

Ultimately, Dorsey pointed out that if people don’t like Twitter’s rules, they’re free to go elsewhere.

“The check and accountability on this power has always been the fact that a service like Twitter is one small part of the larger public conversation happening across the internet. If folks do not agree with our rules and enforcement, they can simply go to another internet service,” Dorsey wrote.

The Twitter co-founder then seemed to address the controversy over Parler, which has been booted from the Apple App Store, Google’s Android platform, and Amazon’s AWS hosting services for not moderating extremist content well enough. Parler has sued Amazon in federal court over the matter.

“This concept was challenged last week when a number of foundational internet tool providers also decided not to host what they found dangerous. I do not believe this was coordinated. More likely: companies came to their own conclusions or were emboldened by the actions of others,” wrote Dorsey.

Dorsey even went on to suggest that the move by large tech companies to push out Parler would be bad, at least in the long term.

“This moment in time might call for this dynamic, but over the long term it will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet. A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same,” explained Dorsey.

“Yes, we all need to look critically at inconsistencies of our policy and enforcement. Yes, we need to look at how our service might incentivise distraction and harm. Yes, we need more transparency in our moderation operations. All this can’t erode a free and open global internet.”

Dorsey, who’s reportedly worth roughly $US13 ($17) billion, then took a weird turn in his thread, perhaps only as an extremely wealthy person can.

“The reason I have so much passion for #Bitcoin is largely because of the model it demonstrates: a foundational internet technology that is not controlled or influenced by any single individual or entity. This is what the internet wants to be, and over time, more of it will be,” Dorsey wrote.

“We are trying to do our part by funding an initiative around an open decentralized standard for social media. Our goal is to be a client of that standard for the public conversation layer of the internet. We call it @bluesky,” Dorsey wrote, plugging an initiative he’s had in the works since late 2019.

“This will take time to build. We are in the process of interviewing and hiring folks, looking at both starting a standard from scratch or contributing to something that already exists. No matter the ultimate direction, we will do this work completely through public transparency.”

Dorsey finished his thread by recognising that it’s a difficult time in the world right now, something we can assume is at least partially a reference to the covid-19 pandemic that has killed at least 1.97 million people across the globe and sickened over 92.3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker.

“It’s important that we acknowledge this is a time of great uncertainty and struggle for so many around the world. Our goal in this moment is to disarm as much as we can, and ensure we are all building towards a greater common understanding, and a more peaceful existence on earth,” wrote Dorsey.

“I believe the internet and global public conversation is our best and most relevant method of achieving this. I also recognise it does not feel that way today. Everything we learn in this moment will better our effort, and push us to be what we are: one humanity working together.”