February 4, 2019
Over the weekend, podcaster Joe Rogan invited Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey into his studio to chew the fat for a couple of hours about social media. While Rogan's 2018 recent interview with Elon Musk saw the Tesla boss smoking weed, this time around, many of Rogan's fans accused him of being the one blowing smoke – straight in Dorsey's direction, with softball questions and a generally easy ride.
We still learned a lot, though. Dorsey seemed reflective about the recent shortcomings of Twitter, and pensive about its responsibilities to the world. He also responded to criticism about how Twitter has handed President Trump's activities, claiming his behaviour has been no worse than Obama's ever was…
We take a look at the highlights of the podcast, and the five things we've learned about Twitter this weekend.
1. Twitter is Considering an Edit Feature
As any Twitter user knows, the ultimate horror is spending hours crafting the perfect tweet, only to publish it and then realize that you've included a typo.
Do you just let it go? Delete the Tweet and retype it? As the service lacks the rather basic ability to edit existing tweets, your options are limited.
It seems that Dorsey has (finally) listened to the outrage from Twitter users. On the podcast, Rogan lamented the lack of any such feature, and revealed that it was something that was being worked on. The problem, as Dorsey put it, is that they had fashioned Twitter on the SMS-model, where once you send your message, it's out there and can't be retracted.
However, Dorsey did admit that an edit feature was a possibility, and that Twitter is toying with the idea of a limited window (5 – 30 seconds) within which to make those corrections and republish the original Tweet.
So, on the one hand, this feels like a massive bonus. But, on the other hand, had such a feature existed before, the world would never have been gifted classics like “Covfefe”…
2. Obama was Just as Bad on Twitter as Trump
Speaking of Trump (it would be hard to talk for two hours about Twitter and NOT bring him up), Rogan did ask Dorsey just where to draw the line with Trump's tweets, especially as the president has mentioned nuclear strikes over Twitter.
Dorsey gave a surprising answer here. In response to Trump's nuclear threats to North Korea, he stated:
“If you were to look at President Obama, it wasn't the exact same tone, but there were threats surrounding the same country. We have to take context into consideration.”
Dorsey also noted that Trump's Tweets were “news worthy”, and therefore important to publish. When pushed on what action Twitter would take if Trump threatened to kill a journalist on Twitter, Dorsey replied, “We'd certainly talk about it”.
3. Twitter Only Bans Trolls as a Last Resort
When it comes to trolls on Twitter, Rogan did push Dorsey on how the platform's harassment policy works. The Twitter CEO admitted that in his view, everyone has a right to have their voice heard, and that blocking people entirely is a last resort.
There are several steps that are taken before removing someone from the service completely. Some of these are the responsibility of machine-learning algorithms, rather than humans, which could explain why Twitter is so notoriously slow to take out trolls.
Even when Alex Jones was being banished from every social media site online, including Facebook, YouTube and Spotify, Twitter was the last to act, citing its code of conduct.
Dorsey explained that there are several factors the company uses to determine harassment, including how often the person is blocked and muted. Twitter will also take the step to down-rank their replies, rather than remove their account entirely. Dorsey also expressed concern about online mobs forming to remove people from the platform.
Again, it all came back to the code of conduct, and it appeared that in Dorsey's eyes, it really is as simple as a binary decision of “have they broken the code or not?”.
In his own words, Twitter “considers the conduct, not the speech”.
“The biggest [regret] has been around the dynamics of the service to allow it to be weaponized to silence someone else, which goes against the context of free speech. We need to make sure that everyone feels they have a voice.” – Jack Dorsey
He also admitted that Twitter is complicit in mobilizing negative users: “We incentivize echo chambers. We incentivize outrage and hot takes – there's no nuance for conversation.”
4. Twitter is Failing in its Global Responsibility
Dorsey was surprisingly candid about the ways that Twitter has failed its users in the past. He repeatedly referred to its place on the world stage, and the platform's “global responsibility”. It was his dream, Dorsey said, that people should walk away from Twitter having “learned something”, yet he admitted that this isn't always the case.
He also wants Twitter to bring people together to solve problems. A tall order, perhaps, when you take a look at Twitter today, but he lamented:
“I think it's existential that we have global conversations about some things that will become crisis, including climate change, economic disparity, AI and job displacement. We want to make sure that we’re doing our best to make people see these global problems and work together to solve them faster. No one nation will solve alone.” – Jack Dorsey
He was also quick to acknowledge one of the key issues with Twitter, that is can simply devolve into an echo chamber. As it stands, Dorsey claimed that Twitter wasn't doing enough to surface different opinions and encourage its users to seek out alternative views, with no features that help surface such content. Dorsey mentioned the possibility of being able to follow hashtags in the future, as a potential option.
The problem, as he put it, is that most people follow certain accounts and stay in their timeline, which is a bit of an issue when you're looking to work together to tackle the worlds ills. It can also lead, he noted, to nationalism, rather than globalism.
5. Twitter's Terms of Service are Problematic
One of Dorsey pet peeves is the that nobody reads terms of service before using a service. That's despite the fact he admitted to not having read Instagram's terms, even though he was one of the first people on the platform.
“Terms of Service in our industry are a mess, nobody reads them. We expect people to read these rules of the road.” – Jack Dorsey
In the case of his own company's terms though, Dorsey admitted it was failing its users. He pointed to the fact that when you initially check them out, the first information presented to you is around copyright law. The details of its harassment and violent acts policy pushed halfway down the document. “We are putting copyright protection above harassment,” admitted Dorsey.
Whether its terms change, or people's behavior on the service changes, some challenging questions lie ahead for Twitter. And Dorsey may not be answering quite so forgiving an interrogator as Rogen next time around.
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