Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has defended his company’s decision to ban President Donald Trump, while acknowledging that the move stems from its failure to promote “healthy” conversations and sets a “dangerous” precedent.
“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.”
For the past four years, Twitter (TWTR) was central to Trump’s presidency, a fact that also benefited the company in the form of countless hours of user engagement. Twitter (TWTR) took a light-touch approach to moderating his account, often arguing that as a public official, Trump must be given wide latitude to speak. But the riot at the Capitol led to a ban.
Dorsey grappled with the implications of the decision in his posts, admitting that “having to ban an account has real and significant ramifications.” Removing users, he said, fragments the public conversation and divides people.
“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,” he said.
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.
Amazon (AMZN)effectively killed off Parler, a platform favored by the far-right, when it canceled its web hosting contract.
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. A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same,” Dorsey said.
“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,” he added.
— Brian Fung contributed reporting.