Twitter Is Just The Beginning Of Jack Dorsey's Speech Revolution

from the decentralization-ftw dept

Jack Dorsey has left Twitter, which he co-founded and ran for more than a decade. Many on the American political right frequently accused Dorsey and other prominent social media CEOs of censoring conservative content. Yet Dorsey doesn’t easily fit within partisan molds. Although Twitter is often lumped together with Facebook and YouTube, its founder’s approach to free speech and interest in decentralized initiatives such as BlueSky make Dorsey one of the more interesting online speech leaders of recent years. If you want to know what the future of social media might be, keep an eye on Dorsey.

Twitter has much in common with other prominent “Big Tech” social media firms such as Facebook and Google-owned YouTube. Like these firms, Twitter is centralized, with one set of rules and policies. Twitter is nonetheless different from other social media sites in important ways. Although often discussed in the context of “Big Tech” debates, Twitter is much smaller than Facebook and YouTube. Only about a fifth of Americans use Twitter and most are not active on the platform, with 10 percent of users being responsible for 80 percent of tweets. Despite its relatively small size, Twitter is often discussed by lawmakers because of its outsized influence among cultural and political elites.

Republican lawmakers’ focus on Twitter arose out of concerns over its content moderation policies. Over the last few years it has become common for members of Congress to decry the content moderation decisions of “Big Tech” companies. Twitter is often lumped together with Facebook and YouTube in such conversations, which is a shame given Dorsey’s views on free speech.

Dorsey has been more supportive of free speech than many on the American political right might think. Did Twitter, under Dorsey’s leadership, adhere to a policy of allowing all legal speech? Of course not. Did Twitter sometimes inconsistently apply its policies? Yes.

But no social media site could allow all legal speech. The wide range of awful but lawful speech aside, spam and other intrusive legal speech would ruin the online experience. Any social media site with millions or billions of users will experience false positives and false negatives while implementing a content moderation policy.

Yet Dorsey defended keeping former President Trump’s Twitter account live, and expressed concern about suspending Trump’s Twitter account in the wake of the January 6th coup attempt.

It became clear in the last few years that Dorsey is open to new ideas that may end up being considered mainstream eventually. We are still in the early years of the Internet and social media and users are used to centralized platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But, increasingly, there are decentralized alternatives, and a few years ago Dorsey announced the decentralized social media project BlueSky, with the goal of moving Twitter over to such a system eventually.

Dorsey has not been shy about his passion for decentralization, citing the cryptocurrency bitcoin as a particular influence, “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.”

I predict that in the coming years decentralized social media will gradually become more popular than current centralized platforms. As I wrote earlier this year:

“Americans across the political spectrum may look to decentralized social media and cryptocurrencies if their political allies continue to criticize household name firms. Those involved in protest movements as varied as Black Lives Matter and #StopTheSteal are especially likely to embrace such alternatives given their experiences with surveillance.

But Americans fed up with what they perceive to be politically?motivated content moderation and Big Tech’s irresponsible approach to harassment and misinformation may also join an exit from popular platforms and use decentralized alternatives. If they do, members of Congress upset over the spread of specific political content, COVID 19 misinformation, and election conspiracy theories will have to reach beyond Big Tech and grapple with decentralized systems where there is no CEO to subpoena or financial institution to investigate.”

Such platforms can embrace a Twitter-like aesthetic. Mastodon, a decentralized and open source social media service, looks very similar to Twitter, allowing users to send “toots.” Gab, a right wing social media network, which also mimics Twitter, became a Mastodon fork in 2019 after adopting Mastodon software. As policy fights over “Big Tech” and online speech continue, we should not be surprised if more people across the political spectrum adopt decentralized social media.

Dorsey clearly believes in a future where decentralized social media replaces centralized online speech platforms. If he is vindicated in that prediction it is likely that Dorsey’s legacy will be more bound to his work in decentralization more than his career at Twitter.

Matthew Feeney is the director of Cato?s Project on Emerging Technologies, where he works on issues concerning the intersection of new technologies and civil liberties.

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Comments on “Twitter Is Just The Beginning Of Jack Dorsey's Speech Revolution”

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OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Um

Dorsey has been more supportive of free speech than many on the American political left ̶m̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶n̶k̶ . Fixed.

Dorsey has been more supportive of free speech than many on the American political center ̶m̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶n̶k̶ . Fixed.

Dorsey has been more supportive of free speech than many ̶m̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶n̶k̶ . Fixed.

Somebody’s partisan blindness is showing.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Um

Yeah no, the right is far more authoritarian and demanding that they get to say stuff and others do not.

Yes, people in general are ignorant or have bad thinking about these things, but few pursue it as a cause.

Someone’s assumptions of partisanship are showing maybe?

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Jack Dorsey apologists says:

Jack Dorsey apologists

one-sided article that apologizes for Twitter censorship before praising Jack Dorsey as a champion of free speech. What a crock! When you mentioned the Jan 6 "coup" I fully expect when Trump wins in 2024 and Democrats storm the White House and Congress that they’ll be "in the name of Democracy and all that is good in the world" BS

My Tikkit says:

He’ll grime around with a number of new businesses, attempt and fall flat to create an Elon Musk fashion religion of identity among crypto bros, do a few more naturally lamentable NFT stuff at that point conclusion up on the sheets of a few rising companies searching for authenticity by having a fellow individuals have listened of view more on

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