Twitter has faced intense scrutiny over its decision to permanently ban President Trump from its platform. Ironically, the criticism comes from both those who think the company went too far, as well as those who believe the company did far too little, for far too long.
Since the ban went into place, there have been many conversations about the role that social media in general, and Twitter in particular, played in amplifying misleading and incendiary content. There have also been legitimate concerns over just how much power we give Big Tech to decide what constitutes acceptable speech.
There are also some who have tried to portray the company's decision as some form of censorship, even equating it to China. Make no mistake, a technology company closing the account of a political leader is the exact opposite of what would happen in China.
The New York Times describes the behind-the-scenes debate within the company around how to handle misinformation shared by the president of the United States. That reporting says that Dorsey had previously "declined to take down world leaders' posts because he considered them newsworthy."
The company had taken the step of adding labels to false or misleading posts about election results. When that failed to address the problem, Dorsey finally agreed that Trump had crossed a line drawn when Twitter temporarily suspended his account with a warning that further violations would result in a permanent ban.
On Wednesday, Jack Dorsey, Twitter's CEO, responded with an explanation of why Twitter finally decided to pull the plug on Trump's account. In it, one line stood out:
"I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation."
You could certainly argue that Twitter had no choice but to ban Trump after the violent events that took place on January 6 in and around the U.S. Capitol Building. While that may be true, with those 14 words, Dorsey provides a powerful lesson in accountability.
Twitter may not be liable for what happens on its platform, but it most certainly accountable for it. Every good leader understands that. Still, his acknowledgment stands in stark contrast to what we've come to expect from far too many leaders.
Take, for comparison's sake, the difference in President Trump's response whenever he has been asked if he felt responsible for something that happened on his watch. The response has almost always been some version of "I take no responsibility at all."
Those were the exact words he used last March when asked if he was responsible for the delays in testing that plagued the country's early pandemic response. They were also pretty much the response when asked last week if he felt like his public statements contributed in any way to what happened.
"So, if you read my speech and many people have done it," the President began. "It's been analyzed and people thought that what I said was totally appropriate."
"I take no responsibility at all" has sort of become the motto of the Trump presidency. In contrast, Dorsey was acknowledging that his company is responsible, if not as a direct cause of the violence, then for the breakdown in its ability to "promote healthy conversation."
Social media platforms aren't neutral. That's by design. They are literally built to provide people with the ability to create and share content, which the platform then amplifies in various ways. That amplification is designed to feed people with an almost unending stream of content that reinforces their beliefs, desires, passions, or values.
As a result, platforms have enormous influence over the types of conversation that happen. Even more important, Twitter and other social media companies have massive power to move their users' collective thoughts and belief systems, for good or bad. All of the things that keep people engaged, and make them want to keep using a platform, are the very things that run the risk of promoting unhealthy conversation.
When the platform breaks, it's easy to place fault with users. That would miss an important point. That's what I find most powerful about Dorsey's statement. Instead of placing the blame elsewhere, he owns the responsibility Twitter has to do what it can to promote healthy conversations. It would be easy for Twitter to simply wash its hands of users who have abused the platform, but that isn't what Dorsey did.
Instead, he took responsibility and indicated the company needed to look internally to figure out how to never be in this situation again. Considering how unique that message is, it's not only a powerful lesson, it's also a refreshing example of taking responsibility.