Twitter’s Jack Dorsey appeared (virtually) before Congress today and was grilled pretty severely. At one point he asked what Twitter could do to ‘earn our trust’ or some such. I can’t speak for anyone else, and there is no way Jack Dorsey would be interested enough in my opinion to read it, much less act on it, but I’m going to offer my thoughts on the matter. As a former Twitter user, I can tell you what it would take to get me back.
First, you can advertise anything to me you want. The platform has to make money. You can sell my likes, show me ads for penis and breast enlargement at the same time, even attempt to track me across the web and develop a deep understanding of me as a consumer.
Now, what do I want in return? It’s pretty simple.
- Declare that the First Amendment of the Constitution applies to your platform. That means that, barring certain very limited exceptions such as direct threats, if I post it, it stands. That’s it. If I post hateful comments about races, so what. I’m sure the world will take care of me. It doesn’t need you to protect it. If I post that Donald Trump is actually a lizard in a human skin, leave it up. Humans can sort through this stuff. We don’t need a nanny. This is going to cause you some consternation, because you’re used to allowing liberal insanity, but not conservative insanity (or even conservative fact) and it’s going to mean you don’t get to control thought. You’re still rich. Go with that. I mean, you’re rocking the whole Rasputin + nose ring look. Do you need to control our minds too?
- Show me what my friends and the people I follow want me to see. As a logical continuation of point one, if I’m free to say it, others should be free to listen. Don’t hide things you disagree with. Don’t silence voices you disagree with. Let the arena of ideas defeat the bad ideas. I understand some of those bad ideas might be your own. It sucks. I have things that I believe very strongly that have been rejected in the arena of ideas. I’m not sure if I’m right or wrong, but I am sure that if the ideas were more compelling I wouldn’t be as alone in having them. The market works babe. Let it work. And remember, roughly half of all people disagree with you. In business we have a word for those people. We call them customers. We take their money. We fold it in half, put it in our pocket, then pull it out when we go to McDonald’s or buy a Lear jet.
- While you’re showing me what I want to see, don’t influence it in any way. If I follow Michael Moore, and I don’t engage with his tweets, SHOW THEM TO ME ANYWAY. Don’t organize my feed in a way to promote engagement. Don’t organize my feed at all. Give it to me chronologically. Give it to me completely. Intersperse ads, so you can make money, but that’s it. Don’t decide that someone, say Glenn Beck, isn’t worth my time, and so you just don’t show me what he puts out. I followed him (for example) for a reason. I WANT TO SEE WHAT HE HAS TO SAY. If you can’t respect that, as you currently don’t, you won’ t have me as a customer.
- Don’t put your nose ring in between me and what I want to see. I don’t need to have information flagged, fact checked, or covered up. I don’t need to be told to think before I tweet. I’m not a child. I know that Donald Trump isn’t really a Lizard (maybe) and if I don’t who cares? I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said believe half of what you see and even less of what you read on the internet. Your transparent attempts to shape the conversation are insulting to my intelligence at best, and in my opinion, treasonous at worst. Stop. (And if you think Snopes is reliable, stop again.)
- This is kind of an obvious restatement of the above, but don’t ban or block people unless they break the law. I want terrorist cells planning their next ‘outing’ on Twitter. I can see them there. I want people who believe that we didn’t go to the moon exchanging conspiracy theories online. If I happen to see it and be entertained, hooray for me. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but terrorists and conspiracy theorists buy things. That means that they are, and I used this word earlier, so I’m assuming you get the point, customers. Don’t kick customers out of your store.
Now, I can imagine Jack stroking his beard, fidgeting with his nose ring, cleaning the mucus off of it with a pinkie fingernail, reinserting it and saying, ‘But we don’t want to support bad stuff. Terrorist are bad. Conspiracy theorists mislead people. And Trump is the worst!’ Yep. Ok. You want to be a publisher then, not a platform. Let’s say a play is performed in New York, and judged by the authorities to be obscene. Who do they arrest? Maybe a lot of people, but they don’t arrest the stage. If you want to be a platform, a stage if you will, then be a stage. If you want to be the producer, then you have to take responsibility for all the content, not just the content you don’t like. You have to, in the ever popular sports metaphor, be prepared to call balls and strikes. The umpire doesn’t rule on 20% of the pitches in a game. They rule on every one. Unless you’re willing to do that, stick to being the boards under your actors (customers again — as a business prof I felt like I had to make that point one last time) feet. It’s a job you and your platform can, with a few minor but painful changes, perform admirably. Do that, and I’ll be back.