Jack Dorsey Simply Defined Why Twitter’s Ban of Trump Is an Extraordinary Failure of Management
Twitter has been scrutinizing its decision to permanently ban President Trump from its platform. Ironically, the criticism comes from both those who believe the company has gone too far and those who believe the company has done far too little for far too long.
Since the ban came into effect, there has been a lot of talk about the role social media in general, and Twitter in particular, played in amplifying misleading and cutting-edge content. There was also legitimate concern about how much power we give big tech to decide what makes an acceptable speech.
There are also some who have tried to portray the company’s decision as a form of censorship and even equate it with China. Make no mistake, a tech company closing a political leader’s account is just the opposite of what would happen in China.
The New York Times describes the behind-the-scenes debate within the company about how to deal with misinformation shared by the President of the United States. This coverage says that Dorsey had previously “refused to dismiss the posts of world leaders because he believed they were current”.
The company had taken the step of labeling false or misleading contributions to election results. When that didn’t fix the problem, Dorsey eventually agreed that Trump had crossed a line when Twitter temporarily suspended his account, warning that further violations would result in a permanent ban.
On Wednesday, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey responded with an explanation of why Twitter finally decided to close Trump’s account. One line stood out:
“I think a ban is a failure on our part to ultimately promote healthy conversation.”
One could certainly argue that Twitter had no choice but to ban Trump after the violent events in and around the US Capitol Building on January 6th. While that may be true, Dorsey offers a powerful lesson in accountability with these 14 words.
Twitter may not be responsible for what happens on its platform, but it is certainly responsible for it. Every good leader understands this. Yet his recognition is in stark contrast to what we have expected from far too many leaders.
For comparison, take the difference in President Trump’s response when asked if he feels responsible for something that happened on his watch. The answer was almost always a version of “I take no responsibility at all.”
Those were the exact words he used last March when asked if he was responsible for the delays in testing that plagued the country’s early pandemic. They were pretty much the answer, too, when asked last week if he felt that his public statements contributed in any way to what happened.
“So if you read my speech and a lot of people have done it,” the president began. “It was analyzed and people found what I was saying was entirely appropriate.”
“I don’t take any responsibility at all,” has become the motto of the Trump presidency, so to speak. In contrast, Dorsey admitted that although not a direct cause of the violence, his company was responsible for the breakdown in his ability to “foster healthy conversation.”
Social media platforms are not neutral. That is by design. They were literally designed to give people the ability to create and share content, which the platform then extends in various ways. This reinforcement is designed to provide people with an almost endless stream of content that reinforces their beliefs, desires, passions, or values.
As a result, platforms have a huge impact on the nature of the conversation. More importantly, Twitter and other social media companies have the ability to make their users’ collective thoughts and belief systems for better or for worse. All of the things that preoccupy people and make them keep using a platform are the very things that run the risk of encouraging unhealthy conversations.
When the platform breaks, it is easy for users to make mistakes. That would miss an important point. That’s what I find most powerful about Dorsey’s statement. Instead of blaming someone else, he has the responsibility that Twitter has to do to promote healthy conversations. It would be easy for Twitter to wash the hands of users who have abused the platform, but Dorsey hasn’t.
Instead, he took responsibility, pointing out that the company had to look internally to figure out how to never be in this situation again. Given the uniqueness of this message, it is not only an important lesson, but also a refreshing example of taking responsibility.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.