Besieged by criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey felt compelled to publish a lengthy explanation on the company’s decision to ban President Donald Trump, acknowledging that he has conflicted feelings about the move. While insisting that Twitter made the right move in terms of banning Trump, he admitted that it was setting a “dangerous” precedent for anyone who cares about free and open expression on the internet.
“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump, or how we got here,” Dorsey wrote. “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.
“That said,” he wrote, “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.”
Dorsey, who didn’t seem to really think about what he was saying before he wrote it, then used the “oh, banned people can go somewhere else to reach the public” excuse.
“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.
Of course, Dorsey then realized that several other platforms, including YouTube and Facebook, immediately followed Twitter’s example in banning the president.
“I do not believe this was coordinated,” he said, a strange use of language coming from someone in a position to know, definitively, whether it was or it wasn’t.
Dorsey did not address the fact that Big Tech companies also colluded to boot Parler – Twitter’s biggest free-speech competitor – off the internet in the wake of the Capitol riot. This, too, would be an obvious flaw in his “go somewhere else” defense. People can’t just take their opinions to another site if the Silicon Valley mob conspires to shut down their competition.
“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.”
Well, Jack, that’s exactly what you’re doing. And it didn’t start with Donald Trump – not by a long shot. You can’t play the dual role of the censor and the censorship critic. It’s time to pick a lane.