On Monday, Jack Dorsey announced his resignation as Twitter CEO, explaining that he has “worked hard to ensure this company can break away from its founding and founders” and that “now is the right time.”
“I want you all to know that this was my decision and I own it,” wrote Dorsey in an email to his colleagues that he then posted to Twitter. “It was a tough one for me, of course. I love this service and company… and all of you so much. I’m really sad… yet really happy. There aren’t many companies that get to this level. And there aren’t many founders that choose their company over their own ego. I know we’ll prove this was the right move.”
Dorsey co-founded Twitter in 2006. He became its CEO, but was forced from the position in 2008, and then returned in 2015. He developed the idea for Twitter as a student at New York University; the platform is now one of the top three social media apps in the United States with over 400 million users.
Despite its popularity, Twitter has also been under great scrutiny (much like Facebook) for its handling of free speech issues. Prior to the 2020 election, Twitter suppressed a New York Post exposé on Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. And after the events of January 6th in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, they banned then-President Donald Trump from its platform. Twitter has been under pressure from both political parties – from the left, to engage in more content moderation, and from the right, to respect the principle of free speech.
Jack Dorsey himself has been a controversial figure for his oddities and bohemian personality.
One former employee told The New York Post that Dorsey “has too many distractions to keep him in one place right now.” And Nick Bilton, the author of Hatching Twitter, called him a “checked-out CEO.”
Dorsey will remain CEO of Square, a mobile payment company that has succeeded much more rapidly than Twitter. According to The Wall Street Journal, Square’s market value is double that of Twitter’s.
Parag Agrawal now takes the helm of Twitter as the new CEO, effective November 29, unanimously approved by the board and with high praise from Dorsey himself: “My trust in him as our CEO is bone deep.”
Agrawal is an engineer from Mumbai. He completed his undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay and his Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University before starting at Twitter in 2011. In 2017, the company announced he would be their new chief technology officer (CTO), a position he officially started in 2018. Prior to Twitter, he spent some time with Microsoft, Yahoo, and AT&T.
As reported by Indian Express, Agrawal’s “early work on the use of artificial intelligence to increase the relevance of tweets on Twitter timelines was well recognized.”
Agrawal also made his own public announcement on Twitter, thanking Dorsey directly for the confidence he placed in him:
Thank you, Jack. I’m honored and humbled. And I’m grateful for your continued mentorship and your friendship. I’m grateful for the service that you built, the culture, soul, and purpose you fostered among us, and for leading the company through really significant challenges. I’m grateful for the trust you’ve put in me and for your continued partnership.
Agrawal comes with his own baggage, however. Conservative outlets have quickly picked up on an interview with Technology Review in November 2020, in which Agrawal spoke of Twitter’s role as creating “a healthier public conversation” by controlling whose voice can be heard online:
Our role is not to be bound by the First Amendment, but our role is to serve a healthy public conversation and our moves are reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation. The kinds of things that we do about this is, focus less on thinking about free speech, but thinking about how the times have changed.
One of the changes today that we see is speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard. The scarce commodity is attention. There’s a lot of content out there. A lot of tweets out there, not all of it gets attention, some subset of it gets attention.
Agrawal continued to speak about ensuring Twitter’s “recommendation system… direct people’s attention” in a way that “lead(s) to a healthy public conversation.”
Dorsey will continue to serve as a board member until his term ends in 2022, at which point he will leave Twitter’s fate to its new CEO and board without his involvement and focus on Square.
A cheeky post-script in Dorsey’s email reads: “I’m tweeting this email. My one wish is for Twitter Inc to be the most transparent company in the world. Hi mom!”
You may also wish to read: Governments worldwide pressured Twitter to censor in 2020. World governments demanded the removal of content from 199 journalist sources. What has especially captured headlines has been the increase in global legal requests to remove the content of verified journalists. (Caitlin Bassett)