It contributes to filter bubbles, he said. It risks silencing people, he said. And when it’s not silencing them, it might be incentivizing them to behave badly, or basely, he said. His biggest criticism of the social media site he runs was that it could be nudging its users in the wrong directions.
“What does the service currently incentivize?” asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on stage at the WIRED25 summit today. It’s the question he and his whole team are asking themselves right now—about every aspect of the site “Right now we have a big Like button with a heart on it and we’re incentivizing people to want it to go up” and to get more followers, he pointed out. “Is that the right thing? Versus contributing to the public conversation or a healthy conversation? How do we incentive healthy conversation?”
When he co-founded the website 12 years ago, it was meant as a place for friends to share pictures of their lunch. “Now it’s become a place to launch nuclear war,” said Wired editor in chief Nick Thompson. That evolution, from innocuous late-night destination for cryptic jokes to lubricator of social movements to a cesspool of outrage and the platform for geopolitical discourse was not a result of Twitter’s code, Dorsey’s argued. But it was inevitable.
From the second it launched, Twitter was a free app with which anyone could text message the entire world. “Once the world saw that, there was no taking it back,” Dorsey said. “Once they saw it, they needed it. Our job now is to make sure we are actually serving that need.” By which he means the need for a global public square, a place for a global conversation to discuss the most important topics—he cited climate change and poverty as topics that can only be tackled in a global discussion—which he feels it is Twitter’s responsibility to facilitate.
If that means not being an absolutist about free speech, so be it. “We can only stand for freedom of expression if people feel safe to express themselves in the first place,” he said, adding, “A lot of people come to Twitter and they don’t see a service. They see what looks like a public square and they have the same expectation as they have of a public square, and that is what we have to get right.”
To get it right, Dorsey indicated everything was on the table. Twitter, he indicated, may need to be radically changed. He noted right now the service only allows you to follow accounts, not topics. It only allows you to like or retweet. What should it allow you to do instead? He’s not sure, but he’s considering every option.
And he’s open to your ideas. “When we started the company, we weren’t thinking about [any of] this at all,” he said. “One of the interesting things about Twitter has been this amazing experiment in creating with others—the hashtag, the thread, the retweet—have all been invented by the people using our service, not us.” So if you have ideas for how to fix Twitter, make it known. Dorsey is listening.