CEO Jack Dorsey says Twitter's decision to ban Trump was right, but also 'failure'

In the recent posts on Twitter, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has defended his company's decision to Donald Trump, saying that it is the company's failure to promote "healthy" conversation and sets a "dangerous" precedent.
January 15, 2021 | 18:32
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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defended his company’s ban of President Donald Trump in a philosophical Twitter thread that is his first public statement on the subject.

When Trump incited his followers to storm the U.S. Capitol last week, then continued to tweet potentially ominous messages, Dorsey said the resulting risk to public safety created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company. Having already briefly suspended Trump’s account the day of the Capitol riot, Twitter on Friday banned Trump entirely, then smacked down the president’s attempts to tweet using other accounts.

CEO Jack Dorsey says Twitter's decision to ban Trump was right, but also 'failure'
Dorsey has said he believes those measures can promote more fruitful, or "healthy," conversations online (Photo: Reuters)

"These two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks," the company said. "After assessing the language in these Tweets against our Glorification of Violence policy, we have determined that these Tweets are in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy and the user @realDonaldTrump should be immediately permanently suspended from the service."

"I believe this was the right decision for Twitter," Dorsey said in a series of 13 posts on his platform, citing "extraordinary and untenable" circumstances after Trump incited a riot at the US Capitol last week, an event that forced the social media company to "focus all of our actions on public safety."

"I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here," Dorsey said. "Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all."

Dorsey acknowledged that shows of strength like the Trump ban could set dangerous precedents, even calling them a sign of “failure.” Although not in so many words, Dorsey suggested that Twitter needs to find ways to avoid having to make such decisions in the first place. Exactly how that would work isn’t clear, although it could range from earlier and more effective moderation to a fundamental restructuring of social networks, according to AP News.

In Dorsey-speak, that means Twitter needs to work harder to “promote healthy conversation.”

Extreme measures such as banning Trump also highlight the extraordinary power that Twitter and other Big Tech companies can wield without accountability or recourse, Dorsey wrote.

According to CNN Business, the CEO also addressed similar actions taken by other social media companies, such as Facebook (FB) and Snapchat (SNAP), to ban the president. These actions were not coordinated, Dorsey said, but present a challenge for the tech industry.

"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 said. "If folks do not agree with our rules and enforcement, they can simply go to another internet service."

"This concept was challenged last week when a number of foundational internet tool providers also decided not to host what they found dangerous," he continued.

Meanwhile, "free speech" platform Parler was suspended from the Apple and Google app stores, and eventually shut down by Amazon Web Services, for its failure to moderate content that incited violence. Several posts showed Trump supporters calling on others to partake in a "million militia march" on January 20, and for "patriots" to take their weapons to Washington.

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Apple and Google have both banned Parler from their app stores. (Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

The decision to ban the president from Twitter had immediate consequences: Trump lost access to more than 88 million followers, and the move exposed the company to censorship complaints from Republicans. Democrats blasted social media's role in enabling Trump and warned of new legislation to regulate the tech industry.

Dorsey suggested in his posts that the tech industry's actions could have longer term implications, too.

"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 said. "A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same. Yes, we all need to look critically at inconsistencies of our policy and enforcement. Yes, we need to look at how our service might incentivize distraction and harm. Yes, we need more transparency in our moderation operations. All this can’t erode a free and open global internet."

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