Jack Dorsey's Exit From Twitter Could Worsen Tech Censorship
The site's long-serving boss might be more committed to free speech than his successor, Parag Agrawal.
Jack Dorsey has resigned as CEO of Twitter, having served in various leadership roles at the company since its inception in 2007.
"I've decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders," he explained in a statement.
While Facebook has attracted significantly more attention in recent months, due to widespread concerns—some of them overblown—that the site spreads hate and misinformation and is making teenagers depressed, Twitter is the preferred site of the media and political classes. The virtual blue bird's nest may have significantly fewer users than Facebook (300 million versus 2 billion), but its importance to policymakers means that it plays a larger-than-merited role in political discussion. If a change in leadership leads to significant internal policy changes, this could have an outsized effect on the news media.
Anyone who harbors concerns that social media have already grown too intolerant of dissenting opinions—too inclined to silence viewpoints that depart from liberal orthodoxy—should be worried about Dorsey leaving. That's because the long-serving CEO has occasionally articulated an ideological commitment to the principles of free speech; of all the tech industry pioneers who have been hauled before Congress to answer absurd questions, he was by far the most hostile to the idea that the government should serve as the internet's speech police.
While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has come out in support of tweaking Section 230, a change that could give Congress more power over content moderation policies, Twitter has remained defiantly opposed to increased regulation. When I interviewed Lauren Culbertson, Twitter's head of U.S. public policy, for my book Tech Panic, she warned that chipping away at Section 230 could "entrench incumbents" and "stifle innovation and competition." When activists sued Twitter, demanding that the site remove then-President Donald Trump's account, Twitter refused, citing Section 230. Trump may now be gone from Twitter—having finally behaved in a way that manifestly violated the site's policies—but without both the protections of Section 230 and Dorsey's support for free speech, the site might have acted much earlier and in much more heavy-handed fashion. (Undoubtedly, there are many Democratic politicians and progressive media figures who wish that it had.)
Twitter's board has unanimously approved Parag Agrawal, the company's current chief technical officer, as the new CEO. Agrawal's main project at Twitter has been Bluesky, an initiative designed to create "an open and decentralized standard for social media that would help better control abusive and misleading information on its platform." In an interview a year ago, Agrawal commented that he thought Twitter should "focus less on thinking about free speech."
"Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation," he said. "The kinds of things that we do about this is, focus less on thinking about free speech, but thinking about how the times have changed."
Agrawal is correct, of course, that Twitter is not bound by the First Amendment; as a private company, it can make whatever moderation decisions it wants. But under Dorsey's leadership, Twitter has been a place for wide-ranging conversation on topics of political importance, despite some undeniably questionable moderation decisions. Dorsey has resisted pressure from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to bring the company more in line with their views. Whether Agrawal will do the same remains to be seen.