The Twitter founder was a liberal on matters of freedom of expression
Jack Dorsey stepping down as CEO of Twitter might have been greeted as good news among conservatives. Right-wing politicians and commentators have suffered from censorship on his platform after all. Take, for example, the restrictions that were placed on the New York Post for attempting to promote their accurate reports of the colourful misadventures of Hunter Biden. Or, of course, the banning of President Trump.
But celebration would be premature. Relative to the kind of people in his position, Dorsey is liberal on matters of free speech.
Dorsey is in fact a total misfit in the corporate world. An eccentric who aggravated his Twitter colleagues by leaving work in the evenings to go to yoga classes, Dorsey considered quitting tech to enter the fashion world. He is also an admirer of political outsiders who supported Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang. He told Congress, this year, “I don’t think we should be the arbiters of truth and I don’t think the government should be either.” His “Bluesky” project aims to decentralize social media networks and put power back into the hands of individual users.
Has Twitter, under Dorsey, often been excessively censorious? Of course. Is he a progressive? Absolutely. (He donated $10,000,000 dollars to Ibram X. Kendi’s pet project the Center for Antiracist Research.) Yet how many CEOs would not only appear on “The Joe Rogan Experience” but would come back on to defend their business practices (albeit with his lawyer)?
Dorsey’s replacement, Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief technical officer, might be more inclined towards suppressing heterodox perspectives than Dorsey has been. In a 2020 interview with the MIT Technology Review, Agrawal said that Twitter would “focus less on thinking about free speech” and more on “thinking about how the times have changed.” “Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment,” he added, “But our role is to serve a healthy public conversation.”
To be fair, Agrawal also said that he and his colleagues “don’t get to decide what people choose to believe”, and I do not wish to pretend that social media companies have no difficult questions to ask themselves about how information is presented and promoted. (Most of the interview was focused not on banning people but on trending topics, algorithms et cetera where it would be foolish to pretend that platforms can be value neutral.)
Still, Agrawal will face severe pressure from the kind of commentators who have insisted that @Jack’s laissez faire inclinations made Twitter a “Nazi haven” and left “blood on his hands”. He might have fewer of the stubborn eccentricities that led his predecessor to frustrate them. Crackdowns could be coming.
I hope I am wrong. But if you enjoy posting it may be time to think of an alternative platform to keep in reserve in case Twitter becomes inaccessible. Meanwhile, goodbye @Jack, and thanks. I have had a lot of fun on your app.