Twitter, the social media site for people who like getting angry at things, has long been a haven for misogynistic harassers, white supremacists, and garden-variety trolls. The site has claimed to be working on this, but its supposed commitment to change has been repeatedly undermined by their decision to do things like add a blue verified checkmark to neo-Nazi rally organiser Jason Kessler’s profile or refuse to punish toxic users like conspiracy kingpin Alex Jones.
According to a Monday report in the Wall Street Journal, you can blame Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey personally for this. Dorsey has promised to solve the harassment issue on numerous occasions. But he’s also apparently terrified of offending the conservative movement – which is very loud, angry, and constantly spreading conspiracy theories about censorship on social media. So he’s mostly been spending his time trying to suck up to prominent conservatives and mumbling unconvincingly about free speech.
The Journal wrote that Dorsey’s two-faced attitude to the problem has extended to overruling his own staff’s decision to ban Jones and, incredibly, intervening to bring white supremacist Richard Spencer back to the network after he was banned:
Last month, after Twitter’s controversial decision to allow far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to remain on its platform, Mr. Dorsey told one person that he had overruled a decision by his staff to kick Mr. Jones off, according to a person familiar with the discussion. Twitter disputes that account and says Mr. Dorsey wasn’t involved in those discussions.
Twitter’s initial inaction on Mr. Jones, after several other major tech companies banned or limited his content, drew fierce backlash from the public and Twitter’s own employees, some of whom tweeted in protest.
A similar chain of events unfolded in November 2016, when the firm’s trust and safety team kicked alt-right provocateur Richard Spencer off the platform, saying he was operating too many accounts. Mr. Dorsey, who wasn’t involved in the initial discussions, told his team that Mr. Spencer should be allowed to keep one account and stay on the site, according to a person directly involved in the discussions.
In other words, as large swathes of the Twitter userbase were asking Dorsey to de-platform Nazis, Dorsey allegedly felt the need to re-platform one.
The Journal reported that several current and former employees brought up Dorsey’s “philosophical, arm’s-length leadership style” as getting in the way of Twitter staff doing their jobs, which would seem to suggest he was really tedious about the whole reasoning behind it too. That more or less matches up with Dorsey’s habit of issuing rambling statements attempting to justify letting the world’s worst people enjoy his huge, free platform to spread hate speech as some kind of service to public discourse.
The crux of Dorsey’s argument has always been that the platform wants to maintain a sort of political neutrality and enforce rules clearly and transparently. That’s fundamentally incompatible with a system based around one dude’s political manoeuvring and contrarianism.
In any case, Twitter denied that the CEO intervened in either situation in a statement to the Journal:
“Any suggestion that Jack made or overruled any of these decisions is completely and totally false,” Twitter’s chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, said in a statement. “Our service can only operate fairly if it’s run through consistent application of our rules, rather than the personal views of any executive, including our CEO.”
This all sounds curiously like things haven’t changed at Twitter one iota since 2016, when BuzzFeed News reported on a litany of similar issues that had resulted in the site becoming a decade-long “honeypot for assholes.”
It’s all good, though. According to the Journal, the site is planning to “start showing users a picture of a tombstone in the place of a tweet that has been taken down as a way to signal that a user has violated a company policy, rather than a notice saying the tweet is unavailable.” That’s fun! So the next time absolutely nothing about their policies makes sense, you can still stumble upon a reminder of inevitable entropy and decline. Thanatophobia is, after all, Twitter’s core feature. [Wall Street Journal]
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