“Our decision to permanently suspend Donald Trump from the Twitter platform, may be a major inflection point in Twitter’s history. As CEO, I owe our users and employees a clear statement of why we took this action and how this decision evolved, i.e. not just some pablum about what a hard decision and potentially dangerous decision it was.”
In the early days of Twitter, we took a position as “The free speech wing of the free speech party.”. Unfortunately, over time that position has proved untenable.
We have to follow the law. Even in the USA, a bastion of free speech fundamentalism, we need robust protections against copyright infringement and child pornography, as just two examples. In Germany, laws forbid glorifying Hitler and Nazis. In some countries, certain religious symbols are protected.
We had hoped and expected that users would penalize false or repugnant speech by users unfollowing and blocking bad actors. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Controversial speech demands and receives attention. It is more likely to be widely shared. Algorithms and even people have a hard time telling if something is shared in agreement or disagreement. (Our algorithmic engineers and even human safety teams are working on this but have a very long way to go.) Engagement-maximizing algorithms tend to drive people to controversial content.
As a result, instead of wide distribution helping to moderate speech, the opposite turns out to be the case. People feel free to harass from behide the safety of a keyboard. Bad actors like bots and cynical politicians and exploit the algorithm. As the algorithm drives people to controversial content, people increase the quantity and extremism of their content. This results in an extremism singularity. This is due to the vulnerability built into the social media ecosystem and exploitation of the vulnerability by bad actors.
Bad content drives out good. Once you have a critical mass of followers, every post attracts criticism which spills into harassment. As a result, social media becomes inhospitable for some opinions and especially members of marginalized groups, women, people of color. Good people leave the platform, resulting in a preponderance of extreme content. The platform enters a vicious circle and doom loop.
Frankly I have to thank the people who continue to invest their time and energy into attempts at civilized debate in the context of this garbage fire despite what must seem like our constant attempts to drive them away.
The bottom line is that moderation has turned out to be a necessary and fundamental of any social platform. That means adjusting the algorithm to favor quality, or at least promote extremism less.
In the worst cases, that includes deleting content and suspending repeat offenders. Online communities have formed a consensus on drawing a hard line around online speech that causes offline harm. Doxxing, swatting, organizing a lynch mob crosses the line where activity goes beyond merely speech.
In the offline world, once speech has a nexus to criminal activity, it’s called ‘conspiracy’, ‘fraud’, ‘incitement’. Freedom of speech does not let you yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. In this case, speech on Twitter was being used find and reach people prepared to engage in illegal activity, motivate them to do it, and organize the transportation and logistics for political violence.
We can delete content that crosses this line. However suspension must also be part of the arsenal. Language is infinitely malleable. Euphemisms and informal code switching can have the same effect without explicitly crossing bright lines. Context is meaning. When someone demonstrates the intent to act in bad faith and repeatedly does so, after warnings and temporary suspension, permanent suspension becomes the only alternative.
This is the context in which we suspended Donald Trump. Far from being motivated by politics, we bend over backwards when speech is political, or by a political leader like the president of the USA. In this case a political leader clearly crossed the line into using our platform to reach people disposed to violence, motivating them and organizing the means for them to do so.
As an American, it pains me to be forced to take these necessary steps against our president. However, this was not a close or difficult call. If I could go back and change anything, knowing the president’s abandonment of facts and legal means and embrace of antidemocratic, illegal means, I would have taken this action sooner.
We always seek to give people as much freedom as possible, without adversely affecting the platform and the marketplace of ideas. This is maximizes the value of the platform, an obligation we have to our shareholders. And also maximizes Twitter’s value in the marketplace of ideas. Progress comes from debate. Progress may encounter resistance, as it has in the case of civil rights, women’s rights, and if you go back far enough, democracy itself. However, when sharp debate becomes harassment and calls for violence, when Twitter is used to oppose democracy and support real-world lawbreaking and violence, we have to draw a sharp line.
I look forward to engaging in civilized debate on the Twitter platform, and I hope we will not have to take such drastic steps again.
/not Jack Dorsey/