By Matthew Delaney
A basic rule in business is that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Twitter just chomped a beak-sized hole into its future earnings potential with one key policy change almost immediately following the departure of CEO and founder Jack Dorsey.
With Dorsey tapping Parag Agrawal to lead the company in his Nov. 29 resignation letter, the company announced a day later that it would prevent users from posting photos and videos of private individuals without their consent.
This angered both sides of the political spectrum. Right-wingers believe this would insulate leftist protesters from having their actions broadcast to the world. And left-wingers believe it would prevent the video of convicted murderer and ex-cop Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd from going viral.
For the new CEO, who said himself last year that the social media platform shouldn’t be a guardian of free speech, making a policy that limits the spread of information and legitimate journalism seems to align perfectly with that vision.
It’s fair to ask: does Twitter like money? Better yet: does it even know how it became a viable company to begin with?
It took Twitter 12 years to turn a profit. Its stock prices have always been paltry in comparison to other Big Tech fixtures such as Google, Amazon, and most comparably, social media giant Facebook. The platform appeared to be more of a passion project than a serious business enterprise.
Then Black Lives Matter happened, which created the “church basement” of our new Civil Rights Movement and a potent media fascination. After that, Donald Trump’s candidacy and eventual presidency happened. At that point, twitter became the most volatile forum for national and international proceedings, again, amplified by the media’s fascination with The Donald. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the company finally turned that elusive profit in Q4 of 2018, the then-core of the Trump presidency and all the fireworks that came with it.
Twitter was a newsmaker because it allowed the raw elements of free speech — which can be simultaneously beautiful and ugly — to permeate on its site.
Now, smarter people than me have suggested the platform’s dependency on (and willingness to cater to) journalists is why it changed its tune.
It’s barely a surprise that, often, conservative accounts that trolled journalists were the ones targeted by shadow bans while the Ayatollah of Iran and Chinese agents were allowed to spew their propaganda unbothered.
That was followed by the actual bans of Alex Jones and the like because they annoyed journalists, unlike the left-wing crazies who spouted their own hateful rhetoric (a la towards Nicholas Sandmann and Kyle Rittenhouse).
Smothering the Hunter Biden laptop story and the permanent ban on Trump within a three-month span in 2020-21 all but signaled its disinterest in dealing with that pesky free speech and its deference to corporate media interests.
I privately thought that, after Trump’s ban, that the site would tank — fast. Boy was I wrong.
Stock prices held strong, and outside of paying out a legal settlement that nerfed its Q3 earnings this year, Twitter has been producing a steady profit throughout 2021. Dorsey’s departure seemed to even (temporarily) help the stock evaluation in the short term, with plans for it to rebound down the road.
(Maybe no longer having a bearded shaman getting called before Congress will help the company’s profit margin?)
The move to prevent photo and video sharing may finally be the breaking point. Twitter seems intent on removing independent media, so we just have to believe what we’re told, presumably, by the journalists that have so much favor with the site’s monitors.
Just FYI — these are the same journalists that tell us inflation is non-existent, before it suddenly becomes temporary and then a “good thing.” Just like they told us that border patrol agents were whipping migrants, while they show no interest in challenging the Biden administration’s changing stance on whatever the hell it’s doing about Covid-19.
Right now, the entire country is in a “I need to see it to believe it” mode because of the massive distrust we have for the media. We’re not going to change our feelings because Twitter decides to become a utility for journalists, who are essentially PR reps for the Biden administration. We’ll end up leaving the platform altogether.
Maybe Dorsey’s exit is the canary in the coal mine for the Web2 internet that holds us hostage to these Big Tech corporations.
In our current generation, a few key brokers control (and make money from) our interactions with each other online. This is a crude analogy but think of us as “tenants” on their website; however, instead of paying with money, we “pay” by agreeing to their terms and conditions. We play by their rules, or else we get booted off their “property.” Meanwhile, they sell our data, putting our privacy at risk.
The next generation, Web3, is a more decentralized iteration of the internet that looks to return power to individuals.
You can buy a “piece” of the internet with tokens or use those same tokens to obtain valued goods like NFTs. The scarcity that limits durable goods such as real estate is only limited by the ability for databases to find a reliable internet connection and a cheap energy source to produce more of this new internet with it.
Dorsey’s decision to focus efforts on his payments company Square, which just changed its name to Block — a nod to cryptocurrency — is an even bigger tell that may just be the case.
What Twitter plans to do in Web3 is anyone’s guess. Some believe it will simply incorporate Web3 elements into it, so it straddles the line between new and old.
But one thing I know for sure is that once people get a taste of freedom, they are hard pressed to give it up. Twitter should be finding a way to stay as free as possible if it wants to maintain the influence (and wealth) that it’s gotten to enjoy these past few years.
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