Earlier this month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was pretty defiant about giving a platform to Donald Trump, despite accusations of him breaking the terms of service. “I believe it’s really important to hear directly from our leadership,” he said. “And I believe it’s really important to hold them accountable. And I believe it’s really important to have these conversations out in the open, rather than have them behind closed doors. So if we’re all to suddenly take these platforms away, where does it go? What happens? It goes in the dark. And I just don’t think that’s good for anyone.”
Cynical types might argue that while it wouldn’t be good for anyone, it would be worst for Twitter, for whom Trump is a big-name draw. While the president writes the same kind of stuff on his Facebook, on Twitter it’s less filtered and more outrageous. They even use the president on their Japanese advertising.
Well, Twitter co-founder and former CEO Evan Williams – who still sits on the company’s board of directors – is slightly more circumspect about social media’s involvement in landing a politically inexperienced, volatile reality TV star in the most powerful office in the world. In an interview with The New York Times, responding to Trump’s own claim that he wouldn’t be in the White House without Twitter, Williams responded: “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”
More generally, he thinks the internet is broken, and he takes some responsibility for that: “I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place. I was wrong about that.”
Williams is aiming to change how the internet works and to move it away from rewarding extremes. In the New York Times interview, he uses the analogy of a car crash: if you’re driving and see a car crash, everyone looks, because you have to. The problem, as Williams sees it, is that the internet interprets that as though you want to see nothing but car crashes.
This isn’t a problem that’s going to be fixed anytime soon: “Twenty years isn’t very long to change how society works,” he says.
In the meantime, at least he’ll have plenty of case studies to work with. Trump’s most defensive fans aren’t taking kindly to his words. Unfortunately, they’re sending abuse to the wrong Evan Williams.
To all the angry Trump supporters calling me names: Guys. I didn’t create twitter. Wrong guy. Sure he can’t wait to hear your opinion tho.
— Evan Williams (@evan_m_williams) May 22, 2017
Which neatly demonstrates how Williams is onto something with the whole “broken internet” thing…