Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey on Thursday defended his company’s decision to ban United States President Donald Trump’s account, but warned that such actions could set a dangerous precedent.
“I believe this was the right decision for Twitter,” Dorset said in a series of tweets. “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.”
Twitter had on January 8 suspended Trump’s account permanently after thousands of his supporters stormed the US Capitol in Washington DC, and clashed with the police. The microblogging website had first temporarily suspended the outgoing president’s account but later imposed the permanent ban, citing “risk of further incitement of violence”. Apart from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have also blocked Trump’s accounts for policy violations.
In his tweets, Dorsey said he took no pride in the ban. “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,” he wrote.
The Twitter CEO acknowledged that the ban could have “significant ramifications”. Dorsey also said that he felt the decision to suspend the account was a failure on the company’s part to promote a healthy conversation.
“Having to take these actions fragment the public conversation,” he said. “They divide us. They limit the potential for clarification, redemption, and learning. And sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”
Pointing out that Twitter is only a “small part of the larger public conversation” happening on the internet, Dorsey said that the fact that users can go to use other internet services has been the check on the company’s power to ban or impose restrictions on someone.
He, however, said that this idea was challenged when a “number of foundational internet tool providers also decided not to host what they found dangerous”, pointing to many companies banning Trump’s account. Dorsey clarified that the actions were not coordinated. “More likely: companies came to their own conclusions or were emboldened by the actions of others,” he said.
While defending the decision of the companies to impose such restrictions, he reiterated that it might be “destructive” to the purpose of open internet over the long term. “A company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same,” he said.
Dorsey added that internet companies, including Twitter, need to look at inconsistencies of their policy and how their service can incentivise distraction and harm. “Yes, we need more transparency in our moderation operations,” he said. ‘All this can’t erode a free and open global internet.”
US Capitol violence
At a rally on January 6, Trump had urged his supporters to march to the Capitol. A mob had later stormed the Capitol building as members of the Congress were meeting to certify the results of the 2020 presidential elections.
Videos on social media showed the mob shattering the Capitol’s windows and entering the building. One of the rioters even went and sat in the well of the Senate. Lawmakers put on gas masks and crouched under their desks as the police tried to secure the complex. The House was evacuated at first, but it reconvened hours later to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.
Five people died in the violence, including a police officer. The incident triggered shock in the US and across the world. Several officials related to the White House and security forces tendered resignations following the incident, while members of Trump’s Cabinet were reportedly discussing the possibility of removing him from the office.
On Wednesday, the United States House of Representatives impeached Trump for his role in inciting the violence at the Capitol.