Twitter has big plans for the coming years, but they don’t involve Jack Dorsey. The blue bird’s co-founder announced his intention to resign from the company entirely as former chief technical officer and board member Parag Agrawal steps up as CEO and Bret Taylor takes over as chairman of the board. But will the new CEO lead Twitter to openly embrace censorship over free speech? Perhaps more importantly: Will Americans allow it?
Hit the Road, Jack
Jack Dorsey’s time at the head of Twitter hasn’t been without controversy. He was a co-founder of both Twitter and payment platform Square and is the only person to be the CEO of two publicly traded companies at the same time with market valuations over $5 billion. There had been pressure from investors for him to pick one of the two companies to lead and leave the other. Just last year, Elliott Management led a campaign to remove Dorsey as CEO, and while the final deal didn’t involve his removal, it did give the investment firm as well as another, Silver Lake, seats on the board. Elliott Management, of course, supported the change in leadership.
No mention was made of any of that turmoil during the announcement, however. “I want you all to know that this was my decision and I own it,” Dorsey said. “It was a tough one for me, of course. I love this service and this company.” He also called companies that choose to remain founder-led “severely limiting and a single point of failure.”
Indeed, Dorsey’s language could even be interpreted to imply Twitter would be better off without him. In addition to his insistence that a business should outgrow its founder, he says that he’s choosing the well-being of his company over his own ego.
A Healthy Conversation
The new man in charge, Parag Agrawal, has been with the company for ten years. As Dorsey put it, “Parag has been behind every critical decision that helped turn this company around.” Wondering who to blame for the stifling of conservative voices? Look no further! Whether or not he was really responsible for defending the left-wing narrative by any means necessary in the past, his own words make it clear he will be in the future.
During an interview with Technology Review in November 2020, Agrawal explained his stance on free speech:
“Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation. The kinds of things we do about this, focus less on thinking about free speech, but thinking about how the times have changed. One of the changes today that we see is speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.”
The broader conversation was about mitigating the damage that can be done by “misinformation” – with specific examples including the many tweets of Donald Trump while he was president and anything that runs counter to the accepted narrative on COVID-19.
We’ve all heard of shadow banning. As explained by a former Twitter engineer: “The idea of a shadow ban is that you ban someone but they don’t know they’ve been banned because they keep posting and no one sees their content. So they just think that no one is engaging with their content when in reality, no one is seeing it.” In the last year or so, the gloves have come off. Posts have been reviewed by “independent fact-checkers” and flagged as potential misinformation. Outbound links have been labeled as spam. Entire accounts have even been removed. Agrawal openly embraces the censorship, presenting his disdain for free speech as prioritizing a healthy conversation.
In a sense, Agrawal is right: Twitter is not bound by the First Amendment in law. Many would argue, however, that Americans are bound by it, at least in spirit. The left simply doesn’t feel the same. As Liberty Nation’s Jeff Charles put it almost exactly a year ago: “Who needs government censorship when you have social media tyrants?”
Change on the Horizon
We certainly have some clues as to where Twitter is headed in the future – or, at least, where it intends to go. In a February filing to the SEC, the company announced that it intends to have 315 million monetizable daily active users by the end of 2023. Monetizable daily active users, or mDAUs, are people who can be targeted with ads. The 2020 number was 197 million. That Twitter’s new leadership hopes to double the mDAUs and total revenue in just a couple of years shows “free speech” isn’t what the platform is about – and hasn’t been for a long time, if ever it was.
With censorship likely to only get worse, the question becomes how far people will let it go? A problem arises when a service gets as big as Twitter. When everyone – or even just almost everyone – uses a communications service, anyone wishing to be heard has little choice but to continue using it. Talk of leaving Twitter for an alternative platform may be a soothing balm for those angry with the company’s leftist policies, but that doesn’t change the fact that anyone hoping to be heard must speak where there are people to listen. Could this silencing of non-conforming voices eventually reach a point where it becomes more effective to leave Twitter than to remain? Not only would this turn the platform into even more of a progressive echo chamber than it already is, but it would make those ambitious growth goals rather difficult.
But what of Mr. Dorsey? He may not have mentioned Square, his other massively successful company, but it’s still there, and he’ll still be the CEO. No matter how things go with Twitter, there’s no reason to worry about old Jack; he’ll be just fine.
~Read more from James Fite.