Twitter had a hell of a last week, banning a sitting U.S. President from posting on the platform after said President incited a mob of supporters which ran riot over the Capitol, with the incident ending in five deaths and various people being investigated by the FBI for domestic terrorism.
On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained and defended the move in a lengthy series of tweets, arguing that the action taken was necessary, but also adding that 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. 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 (…) I believe this was the right decision for Twitter,” he wrote.
I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here. 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?
— jack (@jack) January 14, 2021
Dorsey then argued that banning an account from Twitter divides the public and places too much power in the hands of one corporation. “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,” he wrote. But “this concept was challenged,” Dorsey argued, when other companies, such as Facebook and Snapchat joined in on banning Trump, and when companies like Amazon banned pro-Trump service Parler to operate on their virtual servers.
Ultimately, having a bunch of major companies banning someone from the internet is a dangerous thing, Dorsey claims. “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.”
Dorsey wraps up, somewhat strangely, by mentioning Bitcoin, which he calls “a foundational internet technology that is not controlled or influenced by any single individual or entity.” Twitter is working on a decentralized standard for social media through its bluesky project, and Dorsey hopes it could “be a client of that standard for the public conversation layer of the internet.”
Dorsey’s assessment of Twitter’s Trump ban raises some interesting points, but it feels as though Dorsey would rather be heading a decentralized network where he ultimately doesn’t have to (or cannot) make that decision. The problem is, that decentralized network appears to still be very far in the future (Twitter’s bluesky is described as an independent team with just five members), and the company might have to make many similar decisions before it can afford not to make them. Twitter should work on a clearer, more easily enforceable standard of what is permitted on its network right now.