In a shocking display of Twitter’s vulnerability, CEO Jack Dorsey had his account hacked. The offending tweets were clearly intended to be as offensive as possible and beg the question if Dorsey can’t keep his account secure, can anyone? As the dust settles, however, this hack appears far more meaningful.
Given recent political developments, some are questioning whether the hacker’s real intention was to protest Jack Dorsey’s reluctance to more aggressively censor hate speech. Most of the tweets and retweets involved themes typically associated with white supremacy, such as praising Nazi Germany and Hitler, anti-Semitism and slurs against people of African descent.
It is not only racism that has been in many Twitter regulators crosshairs. The CIA, FBI, and DoD confirmed election interference by the Russian government included a whopping 9 million tweets that were used to destabilize politics around the world. Consider Jack Dorsey’s statement made to the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2018:
“Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions, whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules. We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our rules impartially. We do not shadow-ban anyone based on political ideology. In fact, from a simple business perspective and to serve the public conversation, Twitter is incentivized to keep all voices on the platform.”
Today’s hack demonstrates why this policy can often backfire. It is a common misunderstanding that the United States has unfettered free speech. Obscenity, lies, and violence are illegal, and the hackers have made it clear how certain political ideologies can intersect with this banned speech. Naturally, when something like this happens on your own platform, the criticism is going to flow freely. Many took to Twitter to criticize either Dorsey’s leadership or the engineers who work on the social media site.
Perhaps having hateful tweets emanating from his account might spark some action from Jack Dorsey to actively protect users from illegal activities more aggressively, and maybe it won’t. Today’s hack did, however, perfectly highlight how tech companies like Twitter need to do more to effectively deal with user concerns about personal security and exposure to hate speech.
So far it is radio silence from @jack, and that is a mistake.