When Trump incited his followers to storm the US Capitol, then continued to tweet ominous messages, the resulting risk to public safety created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company, according to Jack Dorsey.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has defended his company’s ban of President Donald Trump in his first public statement on the subject, admitting the social media giant's move, while necessary, was a sign of "failure" and set a "dangerous precedent" against free speech.
When Trump incited his followers to storm the US Capitol last week, then continued to tweet potentially ominous messages, the resulting risk to public safety created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company, Dorsey said on Thursday.
Having already briefly suspended Trump's account on January 6, the day of the Capitol riot, Twitter on Friday banned Trump entirely, then smacked down the president's attempts to tweet using other accounts.
Dorsey acknowledged that shows of strength like the Trump ban could set dangerous precedents, even calling them a sign of “failure.”
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?— jack (@jack) January 14, 2021
'Promote healthy conversation'
Such actions, Dorsey tweeted, "limit the potential for clarification, redemption, and learning. And set a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation."
Although not in so many words, Dorsey suggested that Twitter needs to find ways to avoid having to make such decisions in the first place. Exactly how that would work isn't clear, although it could range from earlier and more effective moderation to a fundamental restructuring of social networks.
In Dorsey-speak, that means Twitter needs to work harder to “promote healthy conversation.”
Extreme measures such as banning Trump also highlight the extraordinary power that Twitter and other Big Tech companies can wield without accountability or recourse, Dorsey wrote.
READ MORE: How reliable is Twitter?
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.— jack (@jack) January 14, 2021
While Twitter was grappling with the problem of Trump, for instance, Apple, Google and Amazon were effectively shutting down the right-wing site Parler by denying it access to app stores and cloud-hosting services.
The companies charged that Parler wasn't aggressive enough about removing calls to violence, which Parler has denied. Dorsey declined to criticise his Big Tech counterparts directly, even noting that “this moment in time might call for this dynamic.”
Dorsey questions threat against open internet
Over the long term, however, he suggested that aggressive and domineering behaviour could threaten the “noble purpose and ideals” of the open internet by entrenching the power of a few organisations over a commons that should be accessible to everyone.
The Twitter co-founder, however, had little specific to say about how his platform or other Big Tech companies could avoid such choices in the future.
Instead, he touched on an idea that, taken literally, sounds a bit like the end of Twitter itself — a long-term project to develop a technological “standard” that could liberate social networks from centralised control by the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
But for the moment, Dorsey wrote, Twitter's goal “is to disarm as much as we can, and ensure we are all building towards a greater common understanding, and a more peaceful existence on earth.”
Idaho ISP provides customers option to block Twitter and Facebook
Umm from my North Idaho internet provider.... this is INSANE. pic.twitter.com/vzy9tSDRAp— krista yep (@yes4yep) January 10, 2021
An Idaho-based internet service provider temporarily banned Twitter and Facebook, over the social media companies' ban on US President Trump.
Backtracking on a blanket ban the company later said it was only blocking the social media giants for customers who complained about them.
Twitter and Facebook customers also have the option to uninstall the apps on their own and not use it.
Twitter Inc’s stock tumbled over six percent after its move to permanently suspend Trump’s widely-followed account as investor concern spiked over the future regulation of social networks.
The move drew criticism from some Republicans for quelling the president’s right to free speech, while European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton said the past week’s events likely heralded a new era of heavier official control.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose relations with Trump have been frosty, also criticised Twitter’s ban and warned through a spokesman that legislators, not private companies, should decide on potential curbs to free expression.
The attention drawn to Twitter increased investors’ worries that it could be more exposed to regulation than its bigger rivals Facebook Inc or Google and YouTube-owner Alphabet.