“Leadership Is Failing Us”: Why Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey Only Punished Alex Jones with a Time-Out - http://earlyretireonline.com | how to earn money fastAugust 16, 2018 1:02 am
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The golden era of Donald Trump, it turns out, is also the golden era of memes. Since the ex-pageant owner ascended his Oval Office throne, Twitter has exploded with memes intended as wordless commentary on the state of the world. They’ve ranged from memes of disgraced YouTube personality Logan Paul, to eye-roll memes, to memes of Simpsons characters walking backwards into hedges. But perhaps the most famous, and most apt for today, is a meme taken from a Web comic drawn in 2013 by K.C. Green. The image, which you have undoubtedly seen, is a two-pane rectangle of an anthropomorphic dog wearing an orange bowler hat, who is sitting in a room engulfed in flames. Dark smoke consumes the ceiling, as if the end is nigh, yet the behatted dog sits next to a speech bubble that reads: “This is fine.” If I had to pick a meme to sum up Twitter, the company, and its leader, it would be this one. Except the dog is Jack Dorsey, and the burning room is America.
Since launching 12 years ago, Twitter has been synonymous with chaos. There was the chaos of its founding. The chaos of the platform’s constant crashes. The chaos of the C.E.O.s and friends stabbing each other in the back for power and control. And the chaos of board members sniping at each other through back channels in the media. For years, it seemed as though this tumult had little effect on the rest of the world—as Mark Zuckerberg so famously put it, Twitter was like clown car that drove into a gold mine and fell in. At the time, none of us realized that the anarchy and chaos sown within the company day after day would have wildly detrimental implications for society in general, and American society in particular. Today, of course, Twitter isn’t so much a placid town square, as its executives like to call it, as it is a riot in said square, where people are often bludgeoned to death with words.
Dorsey is fully aware of this, and tells anyone who will listen that he wants to change this aspect of the company, that he’s “committing Twitter to help increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation, and to hold ourselves publicly accountable,” blah, blah, blah. Yet each time he has the opportunity to act on his pledge, Dorsey and his executive team seem to do the opposite. Last week, Dorsey went out of his way to justify why he didn’t suspend conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from Twitter, even after Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, and others chose to purge their platforms of his hateful speech and diabolical conspiracy theories. Jones, Dorsey said, “hasn’t violated our rules,” and “we’ll enforce if he does.” Yet when a single reporter, Oliver Darcy of CNN, easily found a dozen examples of Jones very clearly violating the company’s terms, threatening people and pressing for violence, Jones still wasn’t punished. It wasn’t until this week, when Jones sent a new tweet, that Dorsey decided to deal with him in a different way, telling NBC News in a cringeworthy interview that he was getting a “time-out.” (As Joel Stein joked on Twitter, “@Jack needs to get serious and take away Alex Jones’ dessert.”)
According to people who work for Twitter, and several outsiders close to the executive team, the internal response by Dorsey to #Jonesgate has been one of dismay. While there are clearly hundreds of employees who believe in unmitigated free speech on the platform, there are more who are embarrassed and saddened by the fact that the company they work for allows someone like Jones to attack people whose children were slain in one of the worst mass shootings in American history. Some have said this in public, while others do so behind the scenes. One Twitter employee, Jared Gaut, said this week that he wouldn’t use the service for the next quarter because “leadership is failing us.” Others—often the higher-ups at Twitter—have complained to friends and co-workers about their consternation over Dorsey’s leadership in this instance.
The company’s head of Trust and Safety, Del Harvey, is also the subject of private disgruntlement. As one person told me, Harvey runs a team of dozens and dozens of employees, and she told Dorsey and other executives that Jones had not violated the company’s terms of service, and therefore should not be banned. Yet it took one reporter an afternoon to find countless violations. “How many times is Jack going to let Del make him look bad before he loses his patience?” this person asked me rhetorically. As my colleague Maya Kosoff reported earlier this year, Harvey has a history of slip-ups at Twitter—mistakes that have huge implications for the people affected by them, but that leave Harvey seemingly untouched. I’m repeatedly asked whether Dorsey cares how he’s perceived in these instances. It’s a question for which I don’t have an answer.
The 41-year-old from St. Louis has not always been so indifferent to his reputation. There was a time, not long ago, when Dorsey cared very much what people thought of him, and what he thought of people. He went to great pains to cultivate a persona that was manicured down to the brand of jeans he wore—literally. He cared what Wall Street thought of his performance and how he was written about by media outlets large and small, and he certainly cared what people said about him on social media. But in an ironic twist, the more disliked Dorsey has become on the platform that he helped create, the more he’s seemed indifferent to public opinion. Go look at the @-replies on any tweet he’s sent in the past two years, and you will see a firing-range of vitriol with @jack as the bullseye.
On the outside, Dorsey doesn’t seem to care how these little moments play out, intuitively aware, like Trump, that such fires eventually burn out on their own. Dorsey doesn’t fret anymore when Twitter’s stock price boomerangs. He doesn’t respond to the people in Silicon Valley who seem to loathe him almost as much as they loathe Mark Zuckerberg. He doesn’t care if he’s admonished for going on a 10-day silent retreat as the world burns, like that meme of the little dog. In sharp contrast to the Alex Jones fiasco, Dorsey recently kicked off Twitter’s 3,500-employee, company-wide meeting by sitting cross-legged on the floor for a 10-minute meditation.
Dorsey’s management style at Twitter is made even more unfathomable by its marked contrast to the way things run at Square, his finance company. There, in offices mere feet from Twitter’s, Dorsey runs a tight ship that works so well it is almost in autopilot. His team expertly executes on product updates, the company shows continual growth, and while there are certainly minor internal hiccups, it is largely devoid of pandemonium. Though they often feel like the second child next to Twitter, the people who work there genuinely love the culture. Yet at Twitter, while Dorsey is clearly in charge and making decisions that are helping to grow revenue, a large part of the company’s stock price is a result of factors beyond Dorsey’s control.
Exhibit A, of course, is Donald J. Trump, who uses Twitter about as often as he breathes, giving it more relevance than at any other time in the company’s turbulent 12-year history. If Trump decided to stop using Twitter (please God!) and sidestepped over to Instagram to stir up chaos in little square pictures, you can bet Twitter’s market cap would fall quicker than Facebook’s did after its last earnings report ($120 billion in a single day). Which leads us to Exhibit B through Z for why Twitter has seen its value rise so much in the past year: as Facebook’s users have jumped off the News Feed cliff, and as Snap’s have been sucked into the Instagram Stories ether, advertisers have funneled significantly more media buying toward the Twitter timeline.
But perhaps there’s another reason Dorsey has done very little to actually change Twitter’s culture, despite claiming he wants to. Most people I’ve talked to who either work for Twitter or who have left the company in recent years, believe that the platform’s vitriol and meanness can’t be fixed without hurting the company’s financial model. Twitter is like a balancing scale, with assholes and revenue on the same side; less assholes means less money. That’s a tough decision—to make the world a better place while screwing up your business. Instead, it seems Dorsey is just going to sit there and say, “This is fine.” Even though, to the rest of us, it very clearly is not.