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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Filed Under: content moderation, decentralization, donald trump, jack dorsey, platforms, power, protocols
Companies: twitter


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 9:59am

    not holding Trump to same standard didn't help

    For almost the last 5 years, Trump was held to a lesser standard of speech than the majority of users held to. This has become a very obvious example of loss of objectivity by Twitter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 10:02am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 10:48am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 6:55pm

      Re: hmm

      “How do you get Somone to act in a civil manner without the ban hammer?”

      The fact you ask such a question is more you questioning weather democracy is really a thing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 10:03am

    Nothing productive to say except loved this article!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 10:17am

    Now watch as his actual response to criticism of the Trump ban is to find his own Joel Kaplan and crack down on left wing twitter in the name of balance.

    Mention guillotines in a joking fashion when discussing billionaires ticking over into trillionaire status? Calling for violence! Gone! Tell Nazis to go eff themselves? Gone!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 10:51am

      Twitter did suspend/ban people for saying “trebuchet TERFs” a while back. And I doubt most of the people saying that owned a catapult of some sort. So I could see some sort of ridiculous “left wing” crackdown happening soon. Antifascists would probably be targeted first.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 4:16pm

        Re:

        True.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 11:15pm

        Re:

        That sounds more likely to be a response to mass reporting than anything proactive. What kind of algorithmic detection for harassment would include the word "trebuchet"?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Jan 2021 @ 1:41am

          That sounds more likely to be a response to mass reporting than anything proactive.

          Oh, yeah, let’s not bullshit each other — it was a response to a mass reporting campaign by transphobes. But I’d bet the same could be said about a fair number of bans that affect conservative/right-wing users.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Melvin Chudwaters, 14 Jan 2021 @ 11:24am

    Bullshit

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 12:03pm

      Re: Bullshit

      I don't think he meant that being an open protocol is the only criteria they have.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 1:20pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Melvin Chudwaters, 14 Jan 2021 @ 2:03pm

        Re:

        That he's developing another "open protocol" instead of using the already existing one says it all as far as I'm concerned.

        They have zero interest in it being open. It's all bullshit.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 2:14pm

          They have zero interest in it being open. It's all bullshit.

          How do you know that, though?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 3:43pm

            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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 1:42pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 1:52pm

        Re: Re: Bullshit

        And not that i don't find some laws about corporations stupid and ultimately counterproductive, but Twitter is... a publicly traded corporation. Dorsey et al cannot simply crack the whole thing wide open with nothing to show for shareholders.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 2:08pm

      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).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 2:16pm

        Then come the issues of dealing with assholes in ways Twitter doesn’t/can’t right now. As I mentioned above, taking cues from the per-post privacy and “sensitive content” settings of Mastodon would be a hell of a start.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 2:53pm

      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?”

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        cattress (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 7:22pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2021 @ 6:23am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Claudio Marinangeli (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 2:02pm

    Great

    This is absolutely great information. Thank you for sharing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 7:32pm

    I'm pretty sure that it depends on how Twitter acts in the weeks that follow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    christenson, 14 Jan 2021 @ 10:33pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 11:54pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 16 Jan 2021 @ 7:28pm

      Re: not easy, but catastrophic

      There is no evidence that it was in any way coordinated. Just a bunch of private actors independently coming to the same conclusion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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