Since its launch in July 2006, Twitter has become the go-to online short message service and has broken into the top ten websites by traffic amount. The site grew rapidly over the next five years, going from 5,000 tweets per day in 2007 to 140 million tweets per day in 2011. But the growth would not last. The company reached a peak of around 300 million users in early 2015 and has failed to grow past that point. The company fired its chief executive, Dick Costolo, in June 2015 and replaced him with Jack Dorsey, its founding chief executive who had himself been fired in 2008. Its share price has tumbled from $44.90 at its IPO in 2013 to $15.89 on Feb. 12, 2016.
Several incidents have occurred recently that are clearly harming Twitter’s reputation. Censorship of content that is inconvenient for government officials has long been a problem on Twitter. With the migrant crisis in Europe, Twitter policies against hate speech have been used to censor reports of sexual assaults by migrants against European women. In 2015, Twitter installed content filters that censor the news feeds of users without their consent. More has been done to protect social justice warriors than to keep terrorists from using Twitter as a recruitment tool. More recently, Twitter has targeted conservatives by unverifying Milo Yiannapoulos and locking Adam Baldwin’s account for what are apparently political motivations. Finally, the new Trust and Safety Council contains many of the prominent leftist enemies of free speech and full rational discussion, along with a few promoters of general discord and derangement. Among them are the Anti-Defamation League, Beyond Blue, the Dangerous Speech Project, Feminist Frequency, GLAAD, Hollaback, and the Wahid Institute. Notably absent are any conservative, pro-white, pro-Christian, or pro-male groups.
Many of these problems are not unique to Twitter, but are merely examples of the rise of the social justice warrior and the inevitable reaction to them. The persecution complex, lack of social skills, sense of entitlement, desire to engage in counter-oppression, and desire to avoid responsibility for one’s actions that social justice warriors typically exhibit has manifested on Twitter through the equivocation of simple disagreement with threatening harassment; the positive expression of personal preferences and identities as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism; and the statement of uncomfortable truths as all of the above. The Twitter Rules are written in a such a sufficiently vague way as to allow their interpretation to further the aforementioned actions. In sum, what has happened is in accordance with Robert Conquest’s three laws of politics, specifically the second; any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. The result is such an obviously contradictory position as was enunciated by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, for which most commenters correctly castigated him:
“Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety.”
This brings to mind Conquest’s third law; the simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of the enemies of the stated purpose of that organization.
Before discussing what to do about this problem, there are some objections worth addressing. First, although Twitter is a private corporation, it is not a free market institution. Free markets require anarchy, and we are far from that. Second, like all other companies at present, Twitter is mostly operated, used, and financed by people who have been indoctrinated in government weekday prisons to believe in statism and leftism. As a publicly traded company, Twitter is subject to a multitude of regulations that do not affect privately owned companies and is influenced by investors. For example, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal owns over 5 percent of Twitter, and his influence increases the likelihood that criticism of Islam or Muslims will subject a Twitter user to disciplinary action, even if unwarranted by the rules. Third, within a libertarian framework, Twitter has the right to engage in censorship, but people are free to take action against it that is within the non-aggression principle, such as criticism and ostracism.
With the problem described and the caveats addressed, let us examine some possible solutions. The first and most obvious solution can be implemented by Twitter itself. As Bretigne Shaffer notes, there is no singular proper balance between free expression and protection from abuse. As such, multiple balances must be made available. This would involve having several modes of interactions, ranging from a mode that is safe even for young children all the way up to a mode that only excludes clearly illegal behavior. A user would choose which mode in which to operate and posting content beyond that mode would get that user pushed into a more mature mode, perhaps permanently. This is how a free market institution with rational actors would work to solve the legitimate issues on Twitter. Unfortunately, as described above, this is not what we have. Therefore, let us consider some other options.
The next three options can be carried out by Twitter’s users. The alt-right community on Twitter has had success in its efforts to flood the platform with politically incorrect hashtags, to the extent that #ISaluteWhitePeople, #BringBackThePatriarchy, #AbolishDemocracy, and #FeminismIsCancer all trended in the second half of 2015. A mass revolt by Twitter users could keep content of this nature (or any other politically incorrect nature) atop the trends faster than Twitter staff could react. Another option is to use the cashtag $TWTR in such a manner, which can put such activity in front of investors who use the tag to look for news about the site and its stock price. A large enough action of this type could even have the same effect as a denial-of-service attack. Of course, these methods are likely to get many users banned, but this is not much of a problem. The prevalence of Islamic State-affiliated accounts on Twitter shows that it is also possible to create new accounts faster than Twitter staff can ban them.
Investors can play a role in fixing Twitter as well. As the stock prices fall, people are necessarily buying and selling stock. This provides an opportunity for investors who oppose leftism in general and social justice warriors in particular to gain influence in the company, and perhaps even seats on the board of directors. This influence could be wielded to reverse the recent disturbing changes in policy, or even to oust Jack Dorsey (again).
If all else fails, there is always the option to create a rival platform and drive Twitter out of business. If Twitter’s leadership is intent on turning the platform into a safe space, then other platforms will be available to cater to the castoffs from this policy. If this happens, then Twitter’s stock will continue to plummet and its user base as well as its value to advertisers will continue to decline. To quote Shaffer,
“The company does not have to decide whether all of its users get chocolate or whether they all get vanilla. It can allow users to choose their own flavors. And if it’s going to survive, it’s going to have to.”