CW: This article includes a transphobic tweet posted by Jack Dorsey before his appointment as Twitter’s CEO.
At 9:51 p.m. on October 6, 2006, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey tweeted, “Sat next to a transvestite who immediately ordered a vodka lemonade. Interesting 5 hours.” Fifteen years, two stints as CEO, and a net worth of nearly $12 billion later, the randomly transphobic tweet remains live on the site. And it encapsulates the legacy of his social media platform so painfully well: stream-of-conscious, inaccurate, inflammatory, childish, and dangerous.
A decade-and-a-half has passed, and @jack’s abdication of his throne marks the end of a sad, completely avoidable era in our toxic online ecosystem — one that he willingly helped engineer.
An easily weaponized megaphone — It’s not an exaggeration to say that Donald Trump’s ascendancy and the subsequent spread of far-right death cult belief systems like QAnon are owed almost entirely to Twitter, a digital environment with real-world consequences that Jack Dorsey could have curbed at any point in time. Instead, the CEO hid behind freshman philosophy course platitudes about “free speech” and techno-libertarian ideals to justify his providing a free, easily weaponized megaphone for unhinged propagandists and bad faith skewerings of reality.
Two years into Twitter’s existence, the company’s board of executives managed to oust Dorsey from the position of CEO, citing rampant mismanagement, failed expectations, not to mention the “tendency to leave work early to attend fashion design and yoga classes.” In the subsequent four years spent wandering the Silicon Valley wilderness, Jack founded the extremely successful financial transaction service, Square, and briefly (uncomfortably) started mimicking Steve Jobs’s aesthetics and mannerisms.
Dorsey’s return to the role of CEO in 2015 (following years of conniving, behind-the-scenes sabotage and petty grievances) came on the eve of Trump’s envelopment of American “conservatism,” and the then soon-to-be president’s embrace of the social media platform was a godsend to the company. Since going live in 2006, Twitter did not turn a single quarterly profit; it only did so in 2018, two years into the most disastrous presidency in modern American history. Disastrous, but also constantly live-tweeted.
The damage is done — In all honesty, Dorsey’s exit from Twitter could have come today, yesterday, or six months from now without altering what it has become. In its reliance on American outrage, it has amplified our worst tendencies to such a degree that envisioning a recovery is nearly impossible.
Dorsey milked all he could from one of our darkest eras; he burned the last bridges he had at his own company. He’s now free to journey further into a decentralized digital dystopia however he pleases, with a wake of chaos and misinformation behind him.