Dorsey made waves in Washington as he ran the company at the center of partisan bickering, including Twitter’s decisions to ban political ads ahead of the 2020 election, aggressively verify disinformation, and then suspend definitely Trump after the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill.
He also annoyed lawmakers by trolling them on Twitter and escalated his company’s long-standing rivalry with its bigger and much richer competitor Facebook.
Twitter has shown no immediate sign of its intention to deviate from the course mapped out by Dorsey, who in recent years has installed a political lieutenant and created ethics-focused teams within the company to guide this type of decisions. But any transition at the top of the company at least offers the prospect of a fresh start with Twitter detractors in Washington.
“There are a number of areas where the company probably wants to step back and do a reset,” said Adam Sharp, who founded Twitter’s policy team and left the company in 2016. Sharp has said Twitter will likely have to reassess its policies. on political discourse, including whether elected officials face “certain protections or restrictions that do not apply to ordinary traditional citizens” and how to fight disinformation.
Ory Rinat, who served as White House chief digital officer between 2017 and 2020, said he believed Twitter had experienced a “decline in its relevance” in politics and advocacy, especially after banning political advertisements. This is something his new CEO will have to face, he said.
“For users, Twitter has become a platform for journalists in Washington, and it is the least widely used of the major platforms when it comes to the general public,” said Rinat, now CEO of the Urban Legend influencer marketing technology platform. “Innovation on Twitter appears to have stalled.”
Agrawal, a machine learning expert who has been Twitter’s chief technology officer since 2017, offered no apparent sign that he is inclined to backtrack.
Like Dorsey himself, Agrawal spoke of political speech in the public interest as an important part of the talk on Twitter. He said shortly before the 2020 election that “there is a certain elected content that is important for the public to see and hear.” But he told the MIT Technology Review at the time that it was difficult to explain what makes a “healthy public conversation,” adding that defining disinformation is “the existential question of our time.”
Some conservatives have said they see little prospect of change on Twitter, with or without Dorsey, especially in tackling what they call widespread right-wing censorship by Silicon Valley. “Communists will soon be using Twitter”, tweeted Right-wing commentator Candace Owens after Dorsey’s departure was announced.
But the top Republican on the Senate Trade Committee, who brought in Dorsey to testify last year, said he was ready to give Twitter’s new leadership a chance to change their ways.
“Under Dorsey’s leadership, we have continued to see Twitter unfairly block access to content and suspend users for expressing their views,” Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) Said in an email. “I hope that the next CEO of Twitter will make some significant changes that welcome free speech and do not censor conservative views.”
A change is overdue, said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Chairman of the conservative Republican study committee, who was suspended from Twitter last month after the company said he violated its policy. of hateful conduct with remarks about an official in the Biden administration. who is transgender.
“The fact that a leadership change in a tech company is rightly viewed as a political event with serious ramifications for free speech tells you everything you need to know,” Banks said. “Twitter cannot be more powerful than the elect.”
Some GOP figures have already started sifting through Agrawal’s old tweets and public statements for ammunition on these fights. These include a 11 year old tweet in which Agrawal – who had not yet joined Twitter – wrote that “if they don’t distinguish between Muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between whites and racists”.
Agrawal quickly noted at the time that he was quoting a correspondent of “The Daily Show,” but the original tweet racked up thousands of retweets and quotes on Monday.
In a 2020 interview with the MIT Technology Review, Agrawal answered a question about the balance between First Amendment protections and combating disinformation by stating, “Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment. amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy audience. conversation. ”And that, he said, raises questions about Twitter’s decisions to promote certain types of content over others.
Courts have repeatedly ruled that, unlike the government, social media companies like Twitter are not prohibited by the First Amendment from limiting user speech.
“It looks like we’ve gone from bad to worse,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “Some of Parag’s comments raise concerns about his respect for free speech.”
Meanwhile, Democrats see disinformation and extremist content as more pressing issues that Agrawal needs to tackle.
“Twitter still has a lot of work to do on the troubling issues facing the platform, including the proliferation of hate speech, disinformation and incitement to violence,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del .), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Technology and Privacy and Technology Subcommittee. , in an email Monday.
Twitter “needs a principled gatekeeper who will uphold its policies and be ready to take bold action to protect democracies,” said House Energy and Commerce consumer protection chairman Jan Schakowsky, whose panel s ‘traveled to Dorsey to testify earlier this year. Her too complained that Twitter “continues to pursue invasive surveillance advertising and flatter Wall Street.”
Twitter pointed out that decisions to moderate the company’s content came from its Trust and Security team, not the CEO. “For years, we have clearly known that policy enforcement decisions are made by our Trust & Security team, which reports to our Legal, Public Policy & Trust & Security Manager Vijaya Gadde,” said the Twitter spokesperson, Katie Rosborough. “Jack is aware of these decisions.
Rosborough did not respond to questions about whether Twitter intended to reverse its ban on political ads or Trump’s suspension.
Gadde played a central role in the decision to ban Trump from the platform in January. Dorsey, who was in French Polynesia at the time, relied on Gadde despite her own concerns about the move, The New York Times reported.
Gadde is one of the important pieces of Dorsey’s tenure that remains in place for the time being. In a tweet mondayShe quoted author Salman Rushdie: “Any story worth its salt can take a bit of upheaval. ”
Dorsey, whose last term as CEO began in 2015, will serve on Twitter’s board until mid-2022. He is also still the CEO of the payment company Square.
As CEO, Agrawal will be forced to chart his own course as a Democratic-led Washington considers revising Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that allows social media platforms to avoid lawsuits over how they deal with speech online. The social media industry is also coming under scrutiny by lawmakers over its use of algorithms, an issue highlighted by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
Pretty much the only tech controversy Twitter has managed to escape is the threat of federal antitrust investigations and lawsuits that beset industry giants Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon.
Agrawal will also have to decide whether to keep Trump suspended – especially as the former president is considering another race in 2024.
Trump was one of Twitter’s most prolific users, launching an endless stream of tweets that dictated news cycles and forced social media platforms to create policies on the fly about what politicians can and can’t to say. Biden, meanwhile, has maintained a low-profile presence on the social media platform – although Twitter continues to dominate the political headlines as he launches elected officials for violating his policies.
In addition to weighing on a part of These politically heavy decisions, Dorsey also approved the investment of significant resources in rebuilding Twitter’s ethics and machine learning team., whose job is to help build socially responsible technologies. And he announced Project Bluesky, Twitter’s effort to create a “standard for social media that would help better control abusive and misleading information on its platform.” – essentially, a decentralized platform on which Twitter and rival social networks could all build.
Agrawal previously led the Bluesky project. His rise to CEO could indicate that this project and artificial intelligence will be at the forefront of Twitter’s strategy.
Dorsey’s departure has been celebrated with some concern from MAGA-world, which has escalated its battle with Twitter since the platform started Trump in January. “Bye!” Brad Parscale, former campaign manager and digital strategist for Trump, said in a text to POLITICO. “It was a complete disaster. No one has done more to destroy the 1st Amendment in this country.
Jason Miller, former Trump spokesperson and CEO of the new right-wing social media platform GETTR, took advantage of Dorsey’s departure to tout his own social media platform. “Dorsey’s stifling of free speech is why GETTR has to exist, and for that, I guess we should all be thankful,” Miller said. “Unlike Dorsey, GETTR is here to stay.”