Tuesday, September 4, 2018

"It's A Mystery": Jack Dorsey "Frustrating" Twitter With Unpredictable Decrees Over Censorship


Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been causing some internal strife at the company's San Francisco headquarters with last minute decisions on who gets censored from the social media platform, reports the Wall Street Journalciting people familiar with the matter. 

Just who decides whether a user gets kicked off the site?

To some Twitter users—and even some employees—it is a mystery.

In policing content on the site and punishing bad actors, Twitter relies primarily on its users to report abuses and has a consistent set of policies so that decisions aren’t made by just one person, its executives say.

Yet, in some cases, Mr. Dorsey has weighed in on content decisions at the last minute or after they were made, sometimes resulting in changes and frustrating other executives and employees, according to people familiar with the matter. -WSJ

Key among Dorsey's "frustrating" decisions was his alleged call not to ban Infowars founder Alex Jones - overruling a decision by Twitter employees amid a seemingly coordinated multi-platform shunning of the controversial host. Twitter disputes this account, and says Dorsey wasn't involved in those discussions. 

According to the Journal's sources, Dorsey weighs in "on the most high-profile cases," while the company says he participates in discussions about accounts but isn't the final word. 

Any suggestion that Jack made or overruled any of these decisions is completely and totally false,” Twitter’s chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, said in a statement. “Our service can only operate fairly if it’s run through consistent application of our rules, rather than the personal views of any executive, including our CEO.” -WSJ

Dorsey will appear on Wednesday alongside Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and, upon last report, a "Google representative," to discuss how the social media giants police "bad actors" (we presume means "deplorables" and "WikiLeaks supporters" among others). The companies will also discuss how "foreign actors can use the social-media platforms to spread misinformation and propaganda." 

Later Wednesday, Dorsey will be questioned alone over whether Twitter is silencing conservatives. Several users have noted that the ubiquitous "QFD" shadowbans seemingly only applied to right-wing voices have recently been lifted - suggesting it was done ahead of Dorsey's appearance. Perhaps an FEC complaint brought by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) also had something to do with it. 

BREAKING: It appears Twitter has removed the QFD shadow ban from most conservative accounts.

This appears to be a coordinated effort by Twitter to cover up any wrongdoing before testifying in front of Congress. #QFDBanLifted pic.twitter.com/t8B8QEfsoX

— Mike Tokes (@MikeTokes) September 1, 2018

With just days till @Jack testifies in DC many people are reporting their shadowbans have been lifted.

Is Twitter preparing for something or is it a coincidence they decided to remove QFD bans from people?https://t.co/ZRzme4xcLQ

— Tim Pool (@Timcast) September 2, 2018

As the Journal reports, Twitter has taken a different approach than Facebook in policing "hateful" content. While Facebook has hired thousands of people to review content in the last couple of years, Twitter has far less staff and relies mostly on automation - typically only investigating harassment and abuse reported by users. Some have suggested this makes Twitter's platform far easier to game by coordinated groups of political ideologues. 

After a user flags a tweet, the company says a user-services team first decides whether to elevate a complaint to Twitter’s trust and safety team. The company doesn’t disclose how many of its more than 3,500 employees are on each team or the number of contractors it hires to moderate content. On a case-by-case basis, the trust and safety team may ask Ms. Gadde to participate. -WSJ

Over the next few weeks, Twitter will begin showing a picture of a tombstone in place of tweets which have been taken down, as a way to signal that company policy has been violated and the user censored. 

Dorsey, meanwhile, has been promising that his company will do a better job of policing content. "We moved too slow. We are fixing," he told one Twitter user in January. 

@JShahryar yes you did and thank you. We moved too slow. We are fixing. It will take time. And we will be more transparent

— jack (@jack) January 4, 2017

In October of that year, he tweeted: “We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them.”

And then last month: “Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that.”  -WSJ

Frustrating employees

Several current and former employees tell the Journal that Dorsey's "philosophical, arm's-length leadership styler" has "at times complicated decision-making," as he splits his time between Twitter and Square Inc., the payments company he founded. 

He generally delegates to his subordinates, but at times projects stall because either no one knows what he thinks or he doesn’t pull the trigger, according to people familiar with the matter. For example, Twitter took almost two years to decide how to expand beyond its 140-character limit for tweets, a delay many employees attribute to Mr. Dorsey’s indecision.  -WSJ

Twitter CFO Ned Seagal admitted that decision-making is one of the company's weak points, telling analysts in May that Twitter is "getting better amongst ourselves at both making decisions and executing on them." 

Following the Alex Jones incident, Twitter VP of global communications, Brandon Borrman, along with other executives said that Dorsey wasn't involved in any of the decision-making since there really wasn't one to make. Apparently nobody had flagged Jones's account as inappropriate, despite having "posted hate-speech posts to other social media sites." Borrman says he notified Dorsey in a text message that the company wasn't planning to ban Jones (only to give him a seven-day suspension on August 14 after CNN flagged several tweets to the company. Several Twitter employees saw that has a "half measure" and complained that they hadn't taken more decisive action against Jones. 

When Dorsey reinstated one of the accounts linked to White Nationalist Richard Spencer, several employees were upset about the decision. 

After Twitter reinstated one of Mr. Spencer’s accounts at Mr. Dorsey’s insistence the following month, many employees were upset about the decision, according to a person involved in the decision. At the company’s next all-hands meeting known as “Tea Time,” one employee asked about it. Mr. Dorsey instead turned the question over to Ms. Gadde, that person said.

In an interview, Mr. Spencer says he doesn’t recall being told by Twitter why his accounts had been shut down until Twitter offered to reinstate one of them. He said he found their reasoning “a bit incredible,” but “I went with it because it’s a public space, it’s the way everyone can issue their own little press release.” -WSJ

Perhaps Dorsey will expound on his thought process Wednesday. In the meantime, we'll sadly be deprived of Zuckbot clips since he apparently didn't have the balls to show up. And to think he was considering a run for President...