Trump needs to be held responsible and accountable — both for his own tweets and for the behavior of the followers he incites.
A version of this open letter was published on Medium.
We’ve believed in your vision of Twitter for years. Laura joined Twitter as an employee in 2009, and Ellen tried to invest in the company almost a decade ago. The idea of a platform for new ideas, open conversations and positive interactions on a global scale was powerful and compelling — so strong that today the president of the United States and 300 million others participate and engage with the service each month. That’s a remarkable accomplishment.
But @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.
For example, Trump used Twitter to criticize civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis, who spoke at the March on Washington alongside Martin Luther King Jr. He tweeted an attack on award-winning actor Meryl Streep for speaking out against his regressive social policies. He blamed a local union leader, Chuck Jones, for the loss of American jobs.
Even more distressingly, Trump used his Twitter account to start an attack on an 18-year-old girl, who hid and later said, “I think the worst day was when someone said my address and they said they were coming and they were going to rape me.”
With these abusive messages, he incited others to attack and unleashed a stream of hate, directly violating The Twitter Rules.
“the tweeting, I thought I’d do less of it, but I’m covered so dishonestly by the press — so dishonestly — that I can put out Twitter … I can go bing bing bing … and they put it on and as soon as I tweet it out — this morning on television, Fox — ‘Donald Trump, we have breaking news’.”
Twitter was intended to encourage positive interactions, but we’ve seen your platform silence others by allowing abuse. Lindy West terminated her account. So did Leslie Jones, until you personally intervened. We have both suffered harassment from the site. Increasingly, others — even multibillion dollar corporations — are blaming Trump and Twitter for their silence. Executives have been scared to speak, afraid Trump will target their companies with his tweets the same way he has attacked Boeing, Ford and General Motors, according to the New York Times.
We understand that the complexities of this company you founded and lead make suspending Trump seem like a hard decision. We’ve seen how hard firsthand: Laura when she worked at Twitter for three years, and Ellen when she was Reddit’s CEO. It’s tempting — and popular — to frame a social network as a neutral platform and disown responsibility for content. It saves costs, it avoids hard decisions, it absolves leaders and employees of the sins committed by users. It’s the standard behavior of all large social platforms. Free speech can be a powerful and effective rallying cry, especially because people overlook that it protects against government censorship and has its limits.
Dealing with Trump seems even harder because he provides huge short-term value to Twitter. He has so many followers and drives so much engagement and attention — which benefit site metrics and stock price, even if they contravene its rules. Most of his tweets are the center of attention for at least one news cycle, driving more people to use Twitter.
Even Peter Thiel, Trump’s tech adviser, acknowledges your role in enabling his rise: “I think the crazy thing is,” he said, “at a place like Twitter, they were all working for Trump this whole year even though they thought they were working for Sanders.”
Twitter has never been more relevant — or more challenged — but not in the positive ways you envisioned. We know you didn’t build Twitter to be a platform for fake news, for bullying, or to elect Trump. We respectfully ask you: Where do you want the platform to go? Why wait until people get hurt? Shouldn’t people with millions of angry followers be held to a higher standard? As a blue-check verified user, Trump gets extra privileges, including timeline and user filters as well as two-factor authentication.
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.
For a long time, internet pundits blamed anonymity for online bullying. 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.
With great power comes great responsibility. As CEOs, one to another: You have to make hard decisions. Trump refuses to stop inciting his 20 million followers to harass celebrities and teenagers alike — even though the majority of people, including the people who voted for him, want him to stop tweeting.
As the leader of the United States, Trump should know and do better. But he hasn’t, and he won’t. As the leader of Twitter, you, Jack, should by suspending him. No one else can.
Laura I. Gómez and Ellen K. Pao
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Author: Ellen K. Pao
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