Making Sense with Sam Harris – Jack Dorsey

Key Takeaways

  • Jack’s goal with Twitter – Make it a place where people can learn from conversation
  • Sam has some pretty good ideas for improving Twitter:
    • In addition to a “like” button, there should be a “this changed my mind” or a “I learned something from this tweet” button
      • There was a proposal at one point to switch the “favorite” button to a “thanks” button – In Jack’s mindthis would have allowed people to more easily express gratitude for tweets they found valuable
    • Twitter should implement some form of dashboard, so people would be able to see how siloed they are in terms of information – “People might not know or be aware that they’re only getting one side of a story”
  • As of right now on Twitter, you can only follow an account – not an interest, a topic, or a conversation
    • Perhaps this will change in the future
  • Why can’t people edit tweets?
    • It would add a significant delay into the system
      • Certain “Twittters” rely on very real time information – like NBA Twitter
    • There’s also the issue of retweets
      • The ability to edit an original tweet which others may have retweeted would cause problems if the edited messaged did not align with the original views of those who retweeted.
  • Twitter is thinking about implementing some sort of “clarification” function
    • This would allow people to clarify what they meant in an older tweet
  • Twitter is exploring the possibility of users having more control over who replies to specific tweets
    • For example, perhaps you would be able to hide replies from the conversation that people see
  • Jack views “tweeters” as the “host of a conversation”
  • Donald Trump has not been banned from Twitter because…
    • “We do have a set of rules that we enforce on every account. We have an exception of newsworthiness and public interest, and we do believe that a lot of the things that people might assume Trump to have violated have a public interest aspect to them.”
  • “I want to get to a world where people are walking away from Twitter feeling like they learned something new that benefits them”

Intro

  • Jack Dorsey (@jack) is the CEO of Twitter and Square
  • The conversation was recorded about a week before the Covington Catholic High School circus, which Sam says “represents everything that’s wrong with social media at this moment and Twitter in particular”
    • “It really seems, in that week, that Twitter accomplished something like the ruination of journalism”
    • Sam wishes he could have talked about this
  • Jack recently appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience
    • Joe actually plans to have Jack back on soon, as Joe received a ton of criticism for not pushing Jack hard enough on a few issues
  • There were no edits to this conversation

The Mindset Jack Brings to His Roles as CEO of Twitter and Square

  • “A lot of it is experimenting and learning”
  • Jacks says his experience as CEO of both companies has really forced him to focus on his mental health, and how he can be aware, productive, and observant throughout the day
    • This spurred his interest in meditation
  • “I don’t really segment the parts of my day. It’s really one job, and this is my life. The companies and the people we serve will benefit from me focusing on consistent self-improvement.”

More on Twitter and Square

  • Jack says Twitter’s purpose centers around “serving a public conversation”
  • “Square on the other hand is about economic empowerment”
    • Before 2009, many people throughout the world were being left out of the economy, left only with access to paper cash, while the world was becoming increasingly more digital
    • Square exists to solve this
    • Square runs the Cash App

Twitter and Square Controversies

  • “I find that in the financial realm, the controversy is more private, whereas with communication it has to be open”
    • “I would prefer them to be more out in the open”
      • “I would prefer to work more in public. I’m fascinated by this idea of being able to work in public – to make decisions in public and make mistakes in public.”
  • “We’re not here just to make one single statement that stands the test of time. Our medium at Twitter is conversation, and conversation evolves. Ideally it evolves in a way that we all learn from it.”
    • So Jack’s goal – Make Twitter a place where people can learn from conversation
    • “So I guess, in my role of CEO at Twitter, it’s about how to lead this company in the open and realize that we’re going to take a lot of bruises along the way, but in the long term what we get out of that, ideally, is earning some trust. We’re not there yet, but that’s the intention.”

Sam’s Ideas for Improving Twitter

  • In addition to a “like” button, there should be a “this changed my mind” or a “I learned something from this tweet” button
    • The “like” button, used to be called the “favorite” button
      • There was a proposal at one point for the “favorite” button to be changed to the “thanks” button
        • In Jack’s mind, this would have allowed people to more easily express gratitude for tweets they found valuable
      • What Twitter is examining now – “Does the ‘like’ button really contribute back to the idea of Twitter being a global conversation tool?”
        • Jack goes on to say – “My own personal view is that it doesn’t. It’s empty.”
  • Sam also suggests that Twitter implement some form of a dashboard, so people would be able to see how siloed they are in terms of information – “People might not know or be aware that they’re only getting one side of a story”
    • Leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential electon, Twitter realized the following:
      • The amount of journalists on the left, who were following folks on the right end of the spectrum, was very small
      • But the amount of journalists on the right, following left wing people, was very high
    • As of right now on Twitter, you can only follow an account – not an interest, a topic, or a conversation
      • Perhaps this will change in the future
  • A final comment from Sam
    • “I have this love/hate relationship, as many people do with Twitter. I have a hate/hate relationship with all the other social media platforms.”
    • “The idea of not being on Twitter, almost seems like a non-starter now. It’s almost like a public utility. It is the one place where you’re guaranteed to see a response to events that you have curated, and it can be as good or informative as you’ve curated it.”

What does Jack think accounts for the adoption of Twitter by nearly everyone? 

  • For example – TV news stations use Twitter to talk about the news they’re putting out
    • They certainly don’t do that with Facebook or Instagram
  • “I don’t believe we’re a social network. Social things happen on Twitter, but my definition of a social network would be one that is dependent upon the people that you know, the graph of the past or your current career, or your future aspirations in terms of who you want to work or be with. We don’t benefit from the address book in your phone. We benefit from more of an interest based network, We benefit because of your interest in something.”
  • Why did journalists take to Twitter so quickly?
    • Because it’s like a marketplace of ideas
      • Ideas are discussed, they evolve, and are debated
    • Jack says twitter serves an “in between the articles” function
      • It allows journalists a place to exist in between their articles
      • After writing and posting their articles, a journalist will converse with their peers about what they wrote, hear corrections, etc.

The Character Limit

  • With the switch to a tweet limit of 280 characters, Twitter finds that most people, when sending out an original tweet, don’t typically go over the old 140 character limit
    • But in tweet replies, they do – that’s where the 280 character limit really matters

Why can’t people edit tweets?

  • Twitter was born on SMS text messaging 
  • “You could view Twitter as a place to have a text conversation with the entire world”
    • “With a text, you can’t correct it. Once it’s sent, it’s gone.”
  • Twitter has considered allowing it
    • “But for us to introduce that as a common use case, it would add a significant delay into the system”
      • Certain “Twittters” rely on very real time information – like NBA Twitter
        • This is where the delay would cause problems
        • “Even a 30 second delay in a tweet is meaningful”
  • There’s also the issue of retweets
    • The ability to edit an original tweet which others may have retweeted would cause problems if the edited messaged did not align with the original views of those who retweeted
  • Twitter is thinking about implementing some sort of “clarification” function
    • This would allow people to clarify what they meant in older tweets

The Toxicity Issue of Twitter

  • Aka the trolling, hate speech etc,
  • “The problem is more amplified in particular parts of Twitter”
    • It’s rampant in political Twitter
  • Twitter has been examining the idea of algorithmically (also checked by humans) measuring the health of a conversation
    • The health range:
      • There are positive conversations, which people tend to engage in, and learn from
      • And then there are the very negative/toxic conversations where people get hurt, and thus are more likely to walk away from
    • What are the health indicators of a conversation?
      • Just like your body temperature is an indicator of your overall health…
      • That’s what Twitter is exploring and trying to figure out. They have 4 ideas:
        • Shared attention (what % of a conversation is attentive to the same thing vs. a wider range)
        • Shared reality (what % of the conversation is sharing the same facts)
        • Receptivity (toxicity and people’s desire to walk away from the conversation)
        • Variety of perspective
      • Twitter is currently gathering data on the above
  • Twitter noticed that if someone is going into your replies and trolling etc., there’s a very high probability they’re doing it to others as well
    • “If we can notice that we can predict it”
      • Twitter can then “at least add some friction” to the spread of those tweets into the shared areas of Twitter (trends, search, etc.)
    • For this reason, Twitter is looking into allowing users the ability to have more control over who replies to specific tweets
      • For example, perhaps you would be able to hide replies from the conversation that people see
        • There’s obviously many potential issues if they do this – i.e. more filtering
      • Jack views “tweeters” as the “host of a conversation”
      • “If you give me this power, I will use it like a tyrant” – Sam

What about the variable of Twitter anonymity?

  • Sam noticed by filtering for people who had their emails confirmed (in settings), lunacy and malice coming his way decreased by 95%
    • “It just seems that online in any forum and any comment thread, anonymity is an amplifier of craziness and division”
  • Jack says he doesn’t believe the solution to the above is to only allow people with real names/their real identity to use Twitter
    • “We’ve seen exactly the same problem on the platforms that have real names [associated with accounts]”
  • “We [Twitter] don’t want to incentivize anonymity. We want incentivize psuedoymity. We want to incentivize built identity and reputation.”
  • “I think we can solve this problem, or at least make some progress on it, by providing more context around the accounts”
    • Twitter has started to do this
      • They recently added the join date to an accounts main page
    • Twitter also wants to start identifying humans on the service (compared to the bots) by using all the biometric data our smartphones now gather (like Face ID or touch ID)

The Disparity in People Who Are Banned

  • Sam brings up a good point:
    • Meghan Murphy (a feminist journalist) recently got banned for tweeting something along the lines of “Men are not women”
    • Then there’s also people like Luis Farrakhan who can tweet about Jews being a satanic influence
    • But people like Milo Yiannopoulos are banned
  • Sam continues…
    • “There is a pervasive sense that this [banning] tends to run one way”
    • “People on the right, who touch some taboo that has encroached on specific issues – whether gender, or race, religion…any of these hot button issues… the response from people at the top at Twitter, reliably lands on one side of the political divide”
  • Sam asks why Twitter just doesn’t take a stance/refuge in something like the first amendment of the U.S. constitution
    • This way a very clear line would be drawn on what could/could not be said 
  • Jack…
    • “The spirit of our policies and our rules are exactly that”
    • “The enforcement of them is not always apparent, and the reason why is that a lot of what we’re looking at right now is behaviors in the background.”
      • So it’s not just speech (the tweets), but what’s also considered when banning accounts is the actions these people are taking in the background, as well as their activity in other mediums
        • “Usually there is a lead up to this, or there are other actions happening”
    • Twitter would like to be a lot more transparent about the reasoning for certain bans, and they’re looking into how to do that
      • “We should be a lot more transparent about the why behind bans, but we’re just not there yet”
  • “I don’t think we can just be this neutral, passive platform anymore, because of the threats of violence, because of doxxing, troll armies intending to silence someone…. we have to take on an approach of impartiality, meaning we need very crisp and clear rules. We need case studies and case law for how we take action on those rules, and any evolutions of that, we’re transparent and upfront about.”
    • “We’re not in a great state right now, but that is our focus”

A Twitter TOS Fact

  • Sam read that it’s a violation of the Twitter terms of service to “deadname” a transgender person
    • For example, if you tweeted – “Caitlyn Jenner used to be Bruce Jenner”
  • “I don’t know the exact specifics of the policy, but these are all policies we write and evolve based on hearings from those affected, and those affected in a way they don’t feel safe to exist on the platform”

What is it that Twitter does to improve the health of conversations?

  • When you scroll through you Twitter timeline, if it’s been a while since you’ve been on the app, Twitter “ranks the timeline”, based on relevance/how you’ve interacted with various tweets/accounts in the past
    • You can switch this to not be the case if you want
  • In the shared spaces of Twitter (replies, trends, and search) where people can inject themselves…
    • Tweets that are more relevant to you are placed towards the top of the conversation feed

The Orange Elephant in The Room – Why is Donald Trump not banned?

  • Sam lists the things he’s done…
    • He’s called out private individuals for abuse knowing his mob will target them
    • He’s called out individual businesses
    • “This is someone who could start a war with some of his ejaculations on Twitter”
  • Jack:
    • “I start this with the principle that it’s really important to understand how our global leaders think”
    • “We do have a set of rules that we enforce on every account. We have an exception of newsworthiness and public interest, and we do believe that a lot of the things that people might assume Trump to have violated have a public interest aspect to them.”
      • “We will take action of violent threats on individuals, however”
    • I would just rather these things be in the open, than in the dark”

In Jack’s mind, what’s the worst thing that happened on Twitter?

  • “Every example of doxxing and violent threats”
  • When content on the platform is used to mislead people into off-platform actions
    • In 2016, there was a tweet going around telling people to just text a number and they’d be registered to vote

Meditation

  • Jack recently did a 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat in Myanmar (it was his second time doing a 10 day silent retreat)
    • He’s committed himself to doing 1 per year, and he eventually plans to expand them to 20 and 30 days at a time
    • Jack tweeted about it, but there was some outrage
      • “I didn’t bring in the surrounding context of everything that was happening in Myanmar, and that was a miss”
      • As a side note – Facebook is the dominant social platform in Myanmar
  • How has Jack’s meditation practice influenced his own use of Twitter?
    • For example, Sam has drastically reduced his use of the platform, mainly to avoid much of the negativity (he no longer looks at his mentions)
    • Jack on the other hand…
      • “I want to experience all of it. I want to fix the problems with Twitter. I NEED to experience all of it. This is my job, and if I’m not experiencing it directly and going through all my mentions….I’m not going to be able to have empathy for everything everyone else on the platform is experiencing.”

Twitter by Country

  • Twitter is not in China or Iran
    • Why not China? – Essentially they blocked Twitter, and Jack/Twitter just hasn’t reached out to engage with them about why
  • Twitter filters content based on a country’s request
    • If they chose not to do this, they’d just be firewalled/blocked by that certain country 

Wrapping Up

  • “I want to get to a world where people are walking away from Twitter feeling like they learned something new that benefits them”
    • “I don’t believe the way to do that is by shutting all the things we don’t like down”
    • “We need to focus a lot on what we recommend and what we amplify. We need to be guiding people towards healthier contributions.”
  • “Healthy conversation is the master variable for human progress” – Sam

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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