Twitter's dismal performance gives Dorsey another excuse to finally act on Trump
I spent the past couple of days - on and off - attending John Battelle’s NewCo ShiftForum conference in San Francisco.
The event featured an impressive roster of speakers, even by Battelle standards, including John Podesta, Valerie Jarrett, Robert Reich, and Steph Curry. There were even some big tech and business people too, including Uber’s Rachel Whetstone who was coaxed out of the shadows briefly to sit on a panel with Fred Wilson and DJ Patil about “Tech Under Trump.”
Unfortunately, the majority of the conference sessions were held under Chatham House rules, which means I’m not allowed to tell you what Whetstone said about Uber’s on-off relationship with Trump, or even whether she discussed it at all. So you’ll just have to guess whether she a) gave a contrite, genuine explanation of how Uber got itself tangled up with Trump and why it was such a huge mistake or b) didn’t.
The good news is that Podesta’s session was on the record, so I can tell you he talked at length about the DNC hack and the FBI’s role in swinging the election for Trump. Specifically, he called for “a much more serious investigation of ties between Trump, Russian and Julian Assange, and argued that “it seems clear that [Trump] at least had forewarning of Russian campaign against DNC"
"Forces inside FBI who wanted Trump to win... may not have realized how bad the alternative would be"
"It’s true that Trump doesn't invest in Russia. But Russia invested in Trump"
Podesta also blamed fake news for keeping the hacking story alive, even when the substance of his hacked emails proved utterly boring.
Speaking right before Podesta, Robert Reich addressed the growing activism amongst tech workers, even when there’s no clear business incentive. “I’m impressed that tech company activism is not just being driven by bottom line or Wall St.” But, he said, “the tech community needs to be much more active politically... and be an active player in changing the rules."
Which brings me rather neatly to Jack Dorsey and today’s dismal Twitter results which has seen the company's stock plummet almost 10% at the time of writing. Growth has slowed, revenue is flat and investors seem to have finally lost patience with Dorsey’s stewardship of the ailing company.
And yet... just a few hours earlier, I sat in the ShiftForum conference room listening to a well-respected tech mogul (again, I’m hamstrung by Chatham House rules so you’ll have to guess who) describing Donald Trump as “the best thing to happen to Twitter.”
The response elicited a murmuring of agreement from others on the stage. The audience seemed far less convinced. I'm with the audience -- but the real problem for Jack Dorsey is he’s screwed either way.
Consider two possibilities, one of which surely must be true:
Either our mystery conference speaker is full of shit and that, in fact, Trump has been terrible for Twitter. His position as Troll In Chief has hastened the platform’s descent into toxicity, driving away users and advertisers in equal numbers. Meanwhile Jack’s refusal to enforce his own terms and conditions and ban Trump’s duplicate harassment account has only served to diminish employee morale, leading to less innovation and a self-reinforcing sense of doom and gloom at Twitter HQ.
Or, the speaker was correct. Trump is the best thing to happen to Twitter. In which case Dorsey is an even more spectacularly terrible CEO. Despite having this miraculous asset in Donald Trump’s Toxic Tweets, he hasn’t been able to turn that asset into either user growth or revenue.
In other words, depending on which scenario you believe, Jack Dorsey needs to make a big decision: Step up, or step down.
If, even after today’s results, Dorsey still feels like banning Trump would be an act of bravery too far, then that’s ok. He just needs to resign and let someone else step in to save the company. Because he’s essentially admitting that Trump is too valuable an asset to let go and that, without Trump, Twitter’s actual results would be even more horrible. He's out of ideas, and is too much of a coward to make the kind of bold moves required to save his company.
Or he could step up: I’ve long argued that Dorsey needs to show backbone and leadership when it comes to Trump’s flouting of his own rules on abuse and duplicate accounts. These dismal earnings and his tanking stock give him yet another excuse to actually do his fucking job. By banning the duplicate hate account of his biggest troll, Dorsey would telegraph to users and to employees that he takes Twitter’s harassment problem seriously. It would also send a message that he’s willing to consider big, risky ideas to return his company to greatness. It would make him look like a full-time leader instead of a part-time coward.
Or... here's a bold idea... he could do both:
Dorsey must know his days at Twitter are numbered. Instead of pouting or panicking, he could choose to see this as a huge opportunity, just as lame duck presidents see an opportunity to finally act on controversial, partisan issues in their last days of office. If he’s leaving anyway, why not use this opportunity to do the right thing and ban Trump’s duplicate troll account? Why not make that bold statement against bullying, and lies and harassment and -- yes -- against tyranny. Why not, in Reich’s words, “be an active player in changing the rules"?
Best case scenario, the risk pays off and Dorsey actually gets to keep his job. Worst case, he’s still out on his ear but he’s remembered as the CEO who went out with a heroic mic drop rather than being kicked to the kerb as an ineffectual coward.
In the words of Trump himself: What does he have to lose?