Brian Stelter interviews Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey as he asks fields some of the top questions posed at the social media goliath.
Publish Date: Aug 27, 2021
Hey, welcome to a special edition of the Reliable Sources podcast, an in depth interview with twitter, Ceo, Jack Dorsey, I'm brian Stelter and I flew out to twitter headquarters in san Francisco recently to sit down with Dorsey, he's been on a bit of a media tour recently giving interviews and opening up about twitter's problems battling abuse and hate speech disinformation and harassment. These problems of course are not unique to twitter, but Dorsey says he is willing to consider anything, he's willing to question everything in order to improve the service, to improve what he calls the health of the conversations on twitter. We spoke for about 30 minutes on the 10th floor of the Twitter headquarters, we aired a portion of this on television, but we wanted to share the entire conversation with you in this podcast format beginning with a pretty simple question, What's broken Jack, thanks so much for sitting down with me, Thank you a big question to start off with uh and I'm sorry, it sounds so negative, but what is broken about twitter today, what is broken about twitter? I mean I think it really depends on who you follow and your perception of what you see and how you feel about that. I mean there's a lot of emphasis today on politics, twitter and politics, twitter tends to be pretty divisive and it tends to be pretty contentious and you see a lot of outrage and you see a lot of um a lot of unhealthy debate that you probably want to walk away from tangibly if you go to other twitter's like NBA twitter or K pop twitter, you see the complete opposite, You see a lot of empowering conversation, you see a lot of aspects that want to keep you in the conversation and have you engaged in the conversation, So we do have a lot of focus right now on some of the negative things given the current environment and I believe it's important to see those, I believe it's important to see the dark areas of society so that we can acknowledge and we can address them and I think the only way to address them is through conversation, but it is hard, especially when it feels toxic and you want to walk away from it. So I I don't think there's a generalization around what is broken about twitter, but there are certainly things that we can look at to help it be healthier across all the twitters that you might follow and you might be interested in across all the communities that exist on Absolutely. What about incentives that encourage the extremes, encourage polarization when you're trying to get lots of likes and retweets doesn't that encourage people to behave badly, you know, I believe it may and just backing up a bit like when we started the Company in the service 12 years ago, we weren't necessarily thinking about some of the repercussions from our actions and they look quite small at the time, for instance, we thought, you know, well people are following you, so we should count them and then we should put that count right on your profile page and obviously people care about that, so we should make it big. But that one small choice and it felt very small at the time and it felt obvious at the time put an incentive to grow that number. Is that the right attention? Is that the right incentive that we should be driving? I don't think it is today. I don't think it matters as much in context of how many conversations you have or how much you contribute back to the network. And like is another good example um where uh you know when you tweet and you don't get a lot of likes and you feel bad about it is that the incentive we really want to drive is that what we're actually trying to encourage people to think about? The answer is yes, because it's in the product and that's the one thing we really haven't questioned over the past 12 years is what is the point of view that the arrangement of the buttons on every tweet says what is the point of view? And the incentives that we're putting in front of people when they just experience the product, What are we trying to tell them what to do? Because every product decision we make is telling them to do something. And another good example that I think will help a lot of what we're trying to do in health is what we see with echo chambers. We we only give people one tool right now which is to follow an account and if you follow an account and it has a particular viewpoint, you're only going to hear that viewpoint and a lot of people will not go and try to find another account with a different viewpoint and then follow it. But if you look at a hashtag around an issue around the topic, you're more likely to see different perspectives and those different perspectives might challenge your thinking. It might embolden your thinking, but at least the potential is there to see something a little bit differently from the other side. So we need to do a much better job at making that easier because it is not obvious how you do that on twitter today. Do you want people to be able to follow stories or subjects or hashtags? We've been focusing a lot of the service today more advising it more towards topics more towards interest. We've been experimenting in the Explorer tab, We have a moment product which is trying to curate twitter from, you know, a broad range of perspective and sometimes we do a great job with that sometimes, you know, we could do better, we've been starting to put some of those experiments within the timeline itself. The reality is that's where people spend the majority of their time. So we are aware of some of the, you know, silos and how we're isolating people by only giving them crude tools to follow accounts and we need to broaden our thinking and get more back to an interest based network. It sounds like you are willing and ready and willing to rebuild the entire house to renovate everything. We're ready to question everything. I mean, we've changed so much in Twitter over the past 12 years and I know it doesn't always feel that way, but we've changed a lot, but we haven't changed the underlying fundamentals. We haven't changed some of the incentives that we probably took for granted because they were easy when we built it and they felt obvious when they built it, but it may not be relevant today. So looking at what incentives are relevant today. And to me it's really about guiding contribution back to the conversation and how do we help people help guide people back to healthy conversation and realizing that not everyone is going to choose health in the short term, but over the long term, can we show them by choosing health? Will broaden their audience, will broaden their reach and will broaden their participation in a much bigger conversation when you say health. Is that a euphemism for something? Well, we, you know, we've seen all these issues on the service, we've seen abuse, we've seen trolling, we've seen harassment, we've seen misinformation and it came to a point where we felt we were playing whack a mole. We're just, you know, and also just addressing the surface level behaviors instead of symptoms rather than looking deeper at the second order drivers, what's behind all these actions? And we wanted something that was really tangible. That could be comprehensive of everything that we're seeing. So we were asked the question, what if you could monitor what what if you can measure the health of a conversation? And that just kind of took me back. I'm like, what? What do you what do you mean by that? That's fascinating. And you know, the human body has a health indicator. Its temperature, for instance, your temperature should be 98.6 if it's above or below indicates that your system is out of balance. We have a measurement tool to measure that indicator which is a thermometer based on that measurement, I can suggest that you take hot water with lemon which might minimize your time being sick or if you take this wine based off all of our experience, it might lengthen the time that you're sick. So what we mean by that is, can we measure, can we find indicators of conversational health and we think we can because we all know when we've been in a conversation that has felt toxic that we want to walk away from and that's an indicator. We've we've been conversations that don't feel toxic, that feel empowering, that we want to stay in. That's an indicator. So if we can measure that, then we can measure our progress and then we can actually understand if we're helping at all and that's our intention right now. So it it feels like an abstract concept, but it's very real, and we do believe we can measure this and help show evidence and patterns and experiences as to why you would want to choose healthier discourse over, not realizing fully that not everyone is going to choose healthy discourse in the short term.