Jack Dorsey Explains The Difficult Decision To Ban Donald Trump; Reiterates Support For Turning Twitter Into A Decentralized Protocol

from the good-to-see dept

Last Friday, Twitter made the decision to permanently ban Donald Trump from its platform, which I wrote about at the time, explaining that it’s not an easy decision, but neither is it an unreasonable one. On Wednesday, Jack Dorsey put out an interesting Twitter thread in which he discusses some of the difficulty in making such a decision. This is good to see. So much of the content moderation debate often is told in black and white terms, in which many people act as if one answer is “obvious” and any other thing is crazy. And part of the reason for that is many of these decisions are made behind close doors, and no one outside gets to see the debates, or how much the people within the company explore the trade-offs and nuances inherent in one of these decisions.

Jack doesn’t go into that much detail, but enough to explain that the company felt that, given the wider context of everything that happened last week, it absolutely made sense to put in place the ban now, even as the company’s general stance and philosophy has always pushed back on such an approach. In short, context matters:

Here’s his thread in plaintext:

I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here. After a clear warning we?d take this action, we made a decision with the best information we had based on threats to physical safety both on and off Twitter. Was this correct?

I believe this was the right decision for Twitter. We faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance, forcing us to focus all of our actions on public safety. Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all.

That said, having to ban an account has real and significant ramifications. 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. Having to take these actions fragment the public conversation. They divide us. They limit the potential for clarification, redemption, and learning. And sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.

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. 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. I do not believe this was coordinated. More likely: companies came to their own conclusions or were emboldened by the actions of others. 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.

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.

I fear that many will miss the important nuances that Jack is explaining here, but there are a few overlapping important points. The context and the situation dictated that this was the right move for Twitter — and I think there’s clear support for that argument. However, it does raise some questions about how the open internet itself functions. If anything, this tweet-thread reminds me of when Cloudlflare removed the Daily Stormer from its service, and the company’s CEO, Matthew Prince highlighted that, while the move was justified for a wide variety of reasons, he felt uncomfortable that he had that kind of power.

At the time, Prince called for a wider discussion on these kinds of issues — and unfortunately those discussions didn’t really happen. And so, we’re back in a spot where we need to have them again.

The second part of Jack’s thread highlights how Twitter is actually working to remove that power from its own hands. As he announced at the end of 2019, he is exploring a protocol-based approach that would make the Twitter system an open protocol standard, with Twitter itself just one implementation. This was based, in part, on my paper on this topic. Here’s what Jack is saying now:

The reason I have so much passion for #Bitcoin is largely because of the model it demonstrates: a foundational internet technology that is not controlled or influenced by any single individual or entity. This is what the internet wants to be, and over time, more of it will be. We are trying to do our part by funding an initiative around an open decentralized standard for social media. Our goal is to be a client of that standard for the public conversation layer of the internet. We call it @bluesky.

This will take time to build. We are in the process of interviewing and hiring folks, looking at both starting a standard from scratch or contributing to something that already exists. No matter the ultimate direction, we will do this work completely through public transparency. I believe the internet and global public conversation is our best and most relevant method of achieving this. I also recognize it does not feel that way today. Everything we learn in this moment will better our effort, and push us to be what we are: one humanity working together.

There had been some concern recently that, since nothing was said about the Bluesky project in 2020, Twitter had abandoned it. That is not at all true. There have been discussions (disclaimer: I’ve been involved in some of those discussions) about how best to approach it and who would work on it. In the fall, a variety of different proposals were submitted for Twitter to review and choose a direction to head in. I’ve seen the proposals — and a few have been mentioned publicly. I’ve been waiting for Twitter to release all of the proposals publicly to talk about them, which I hope will happen soon.

Still, it’s interesting to see how the latest debates may lead to finally having this larger discussion about how the internet works, and how it should be managed. While I’m sure Jack will be getting some criticism (because that’s the nature of the internet), I appreciate that his approach to this, like Matthew’s at Cloudflare, is to recognize his own discomfort with his own power, and to explore better ways of going about things. I wish I could say the same for all internet CEOs.

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Comments on “Jack Dorsey Explains The Difficult Decision To Ban Donald Trump; Reiterates Support For Turning Twitter Into A Decentralized Protocol”

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sumgai (profile) says:

Discomfort over power? A sure sign of maturity right there. Kudos to all in that particular boat.

But I have a question, hopefully a simple one: Without the power of the Ban Hammer, how do you inveigle someone to act in a civil manner? To me, that is the crux of the whole matter. Jack did say "We failed to promote healthy .conversation", and the only way to do that is to put members of a group on notice of potential ostracization for those who blatantly ignore the rules of civility.

I must say, hanging a small tag around the neck of the poster saying something like "this topic is disputed" or some such, that’s about a worthwhile as a screen door on a submarine. Better to say "this tweet contains one or more outright lies, but the tweeter is free to express his opinion, and make a fool of himself in the doing of it". Seems drastic to you? OK, then how would you word it so that readers of an outright lie don’t get all emotional and go bonkers? That’s also a good question, no?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Without the power of the Ban Hammer, how do you [coax] someone to act in a civil manner?

In general? You don’t.

A ban is the most severe consequence a platform can dish out. It serves as both a housecleaner and a deterrent to future pests. And consequences are the only way people learn not to fuck around and find out.

Saying “we don’t do that here” is all well and good. But without a way to expel people who keep doing “that”, communities will end up overrun by assholes. In that way, a banhammer is a necessary evil.

A banhammer can be wielded poorly, to be sure. I have some experience in that regard. But it must be wielded to keep communities from becoming shitpits. You can’t bargain with or capitulate to assholes. You have to take action against them and shut their bullshit down.

Melvin Chudwaters says:


I call bullshit. If he wanted Twitter to be on an open protocol, and one implementation of many, he could have done that nearly immediately. That protocol already exists, there are already other implementations of it, and migrating to it is a trivial (though not effortless) exercise.

I suspect he only claims this to head off any criticism of the power he wields.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Jack can’t flip a switch right now and make Twitter an open protocol. Licensing and crediting issues with the code aside, turning Twitter into open source right now would likely leave “Twitter Prime” open to attacks from any hackers who find exploitable bugs in the code.

And numerous other “bugs” present in Twitter right now could stand to be “fixed” in an open protocol version. Mastodon already does this to a degree (e.g., per-post privacy and “sensitive content” settings), and even that could be taken further (per-post settings on whether to allow boosts/replies).

Nothing about this would be easy for Jack. That he even wants to develop an open protocol — be it a version of Twitter or something else entirely — is nothing short of remarkable for a man running one of the most widely used closed source social media networks in the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Jack’s company gave Trump and countless other shitheads free passes for ages. He and every other Twitter exec and top brass constantly got off on the revenue that Trump enabled them to pull in, just like skeezebag Les Moonves (formerly of CBS, now a person people will remember as a sex pest) talked about Trump being ratings gold.

The idea that he or anybody working for him should be trusted to make an open protocol that actually has normal people’s best interests at heart is idiotic.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Bullshit

Uh no. Having been privy to at least some of the discussions involved in what’s going on, it is NOT even remotely easy or trivial. There are all sorts of big thorny difficult questions that pop up, and none of them have easy answers. There are a variety of different ways to approach this and each has significant trade-offs. As far as I can tell, the team involved in this are carefully thinking all the options through rather than rushing in willy nilly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bullshit

OK, so we’ve got your opinion that it’s BS against Mike’s statements that he’s seen the proposals and has contributed to the discussion.

I too thought "Wait… we’ve already got Oauth and XMPP… why do we need anything else?" but then I thought about what people actually do with Twitter and how its current limitations shape the discussion. The current protocols and systems would be a security, privacy and social nightmare. So the challenge is to figure out how to shape the medium such that it’s decentralized and yet still promotes legitimate discussion of social importance (and cat memes).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bullshit

Yeah, the stuff Jack and Bluesky are taking their sweet time with are things like “Trump was our golden goose and now he’s gone. How do we get Mastodon, ActivityPub and everyone else to sign on to Bluesky as the main protocol hub so that Twitter is top dog and our surveillance capitalism, engagement-above-all-else revenue model continues to thrive?”

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Bullshit

Trump is a special case, and money isn’t the only reason for trying to avoid booting him from the platform. Yes they were making money off his presence, but the risk of losing money because of some awful thing he did has always been looming. Capitalism works both ways.
And kicking him off the platform, when he was still going to be commanding a huge amount of attention as President for years to come, while still solidly in the good graces of right wing media, before his words could be as definitively linked to real life violence (more so than say the El Paso and synagogue shooters who were likely emboldened by him) would have done tremendous damage to the business. Hate on social media all you want but the truth is that it gives a voice to many who wouldn’t have one otherwise, the vast majority of which are not trolls and neo Nazis.
Again, I’m not denying that money is a significant driving force, but I see most things in shades of gray, rather than clearly defined terms of black and white. Things just rarely aren’t that simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bullshit

Even just the modifications of the server code wouldn’t be trivial – let alone the fact that he is operating a publically traded company. It would be like saying he should just donate their entire bank accounts to charity – that would rightfully put him in deep shit with the SEC without an unprecedented shareholder vote signing off on it.

Everything is trivial if you don’t have to do it.

christenson says:

Moderation is the crux...

Let’s assume the (non-trivial) technical magic to re-create twitter with a fully decentralized peer-to-peer model is solved for a moment, perhaps a la bitTorrent.

Now comes the harder problem: Basically everyone running the protocol has a hand in governing what is passed around…which includes both malicious actors (Russians or Republicans doing conspiracy theories, and spammers/scammers/crooks making a buck any way they can, including telling advertisers about the millions of ads they didn’t actually serve ) and indifferent actors ( who don’t have time to pay attention to their computer in any detail). A few do have time, and a comparative few of those are nice and fair, but some are total idiots, and telling the difference isn’t easy.

The problem is how to build a system where, on average, the nice and fair folks down-rate in some way the "bad" stuff, and encourage the idiots to recognize or ignore the malicious stuff.

At the base of it lies the problem of identity — unlike with, say, credit ratings, the source of rating signals and the reputation thereof is hard to tie to an identity with any certainty in the face of malicious attacks. Yes, I can cryptographically sign my stuff, but I’m only a consumer and my computer leaked the private key to a hacker again!

On a society level, I’d like to point out that inter-war Germany in the 1930s had the same kinds of conspiracy theories flying about, as a response to people feeling they weren’t getting a fair shake, and social media wasn’t needed to propagate these conspiracies. I’d almost rather keep them on twitter where they can be seen.

But then the question becomes, what should your aggrievement-addicted, chip-on-the shoulder-looking-for-a-target, the-conspiracy-explains-everything low-paid worker see on and interact with on his twitter/facebook feed? Especially if there are ways for those that do want to watch the conspiracy theories (for the purposes of countering them, we intend) need to see the bad stuff?

There’s a lot going on that nerd harder can’t solve here…especially as we cannot bring ourselves to make the 1% to pay its fair share of the taxes so inequality gets worse and worse.

Anonymous Coward says:

not easy, but catastrophic

it’s not an easy decision, but neither is it an unreasonable one

Who’s pulling the strings here? Coordinated takedown of a sitting president’s social media reach. I fuck’n hate trump. But, his base, nasty though I view their rhetoric, have legitimate grievances, as do the entire USA working class.

This action, whilst fully legitimate, will create social unrest which the Democrats will also not deal with. Thus, this just sets the stage for further social turmoil in the USA.

And the kicker is that this social turmoil will be used to further crack down on civil liberties. Indeed, it has already begun.

It is not Twitter or any other corp’s job to create a socially cohesive USA, that’s the job of the citizenry with the assistance of their govt. But I see fck all chance of that happening, and the social media giants are certainly not helping. I mean, for fck sake, the intel apparatus trawl social media. Silencing a voice just denies them easy intel.

You thought 2020 was bad; just wait.

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