WASHINGTON — Banning Donald Trump from Twitter, a proposal first advanced by two prominent female Silicon Valley executives, was an idea whose time had not yet come on Inauguration Day, when they addressed the issue in an open letter to Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and CEO. But as the president’s tweets have grown increasingly belligerent and erratic, and with social networking companies facing congressional scrutiny over their use by foreign governments to influence elections, the once-outlandish notion seems to be gaining traction.
“Dear @Jack: It’s Time To Suspend Donald Trump From Twitter,” Ellen Pao, co-founder and CEO of Project Include, and Laura Gomez, founder and CEO of Atipica, a workplace diversity solutions company, wrote on Inauguration Day.
The conversation burst back into view this week, thanks to a tweet from Pao.
— Ellen K. Pao (@ekp) October 2, 2017
“@realdonaldtrump is bringing out the worst of Twitter — the company, the platform, and its users. He’s using his manipulation skills and your platform to bully others, and to incite supporters to harass people — both on Twitter and in real life,” she and Gomez, who spent three years working at Twitter, had written. “With these abusive messages, he incited others to attack and unleashed a stream of hate, directly violating The Twitter Rules.”
“For a long time, internet pundits blamed anonymity for online bullying,” they wrote. “But we saw at Trump’s rallies that harassment moves easily from behind the screen to in-person behavior, as his supporters shouted at and physically attacked protesters and reporters. As this behavior escalates from the web and lands in real life, Twitter needs to set an example for other social media platforms by holding its users, and itself, accountable.”
“People’s lives are actually at stake here, and each day our goodwill for Twitter erodes as Trump and his followers overshadow the good of the platform.”
Mike Montiero, co-founder and design director of Mule Design and a regular on the tech conference circuit, pushed out a poll asking if people would like to see him debate Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, on “whether Trump should be kicked off Twitter?”
Would you be interested in seeing me and @biz on stage with a neutral moderator debate whether Trump should be kicked off Twitter?
— Mike Monteiro (@monteiro) September 30, 2017
Stone dismissed the new effort to rally criticism of the company. “Y’all pile on us. You really think the issue doesn’t weigh on us? And you’re so dismissive of the Trust and Safety team. We’re all people,” he wrote.
Pao is no stranger to controversy in the valley, having brought and lost a gender discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins before becoming interim CEO of Reddit, a position from which she was pushed out after a user revolt against her leadership of the heavily volunteer-run site. But then Stone got ratioed — garnering more than 2,400 responses to only 140 retweets.
And boy were those responses angry.
hate how Twitter and Facebook brass act like they just channeled the public will. You made bad choices for profit and created this hell.
— Molly Lambert (@mollylambert) October 2, 2017
irony is, if you took a stand on trump it’d buy goodwill from the ppl who actually bring value to the platform & they’d stop “piling”
— BootifulThuggerGhoul (@tessruss) October 2, 2017
By the end of the day, Stone was taking a different tune. “I really appreciate all the responses. (Apologies — my words didn’t come out right.) We’re listening. Thank you for all this feedback,” he wrote.
The criticism kept coming — and the conversation about Trump and Twitter’s terms of service morphed into and collided with an ongoing conversation about Twitter’s abuse and troll problems more generally, pulling in more and more members of the Twitter team in response.
“We definitely have problems with abuse. These filters were added this year specifically because they were requested by victims of abuse,” tweeted the general manager of consumer product and engineering group Ed Ho late Tuesday in response to concerns about the “bot and troll” problem raised by writer Sarah Kunst.
“We have a focused team and made this our top priority this year. And we’re making progress. We’re not where we want to be yet. But we’ll get there,” tweeted Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Twitter.
“Thanks for your tweets today — and your tough, honest criticism. I do hope many of you have been informed (or entertained). There’s a lot of disagreement, but we are united in using Twitter together. Good night from California. Love, Biz,” he wrote early Wednesday morning.
It’s a conversation that’s sure to get even more heated in the weeks ahead, as additional revelations about Russia’s use of Twitter in the 2016 election come into view.
“I think the public needs to know what kind of misinformation and disinformation might be appearing on their Facebook news feed or their Twitter news feed,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said last month.
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