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10 Questions with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

May 24 2018
Photo by
Jed Jacobsohn/The Players' Tribune
Photo by
Jed Jacobsohn/The Players' Tribune
Harrison Barnes
Dallas Mavericks
May 24 2018
B

asketball is my first love, but it’s not my only one. From the small town in Iowa where I grew up, to Chapel Hill for college, to the Bay Area and now to Dallas, I’ve been lucky in my life to get to meet a wide variety of people, each with their own beliefs, dreams, habits, and outlooks on the world. Interacting with different people with different stories sparked my curiosity about what makes people not only good at what they do, but good, period. I am drawn to leaders who set out to make positive change in their communities.

In that spirit, I’m doing a series of interviews this season with people who I admire from afar. I want to get to know them better and share our conversations here.

My latest interview is with Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter.


 

Harrison Barnes

Thanks for doing this, Jack. Let’s just start, right off the bat, by breaking some exclusive news, all right? Just tell me something new Twitter is planning….

Jack Dorsey

Haha, no … but, I can tell you a thematic development that we started last year and we’re building throughout the year. We’re biasing more of the service towards interest — towards being an interest network. Sports is a good example. If you’re interested in basketball, or a particular team, you have to go and find all the player accounts. You have to find the team account, you have to find the coach account … and then you probably missed some of the best accounts that have insights that you weren’t really expecting. My favorite example of this was your old team, the Warriors. Draymond Green’s mother is on Twitter. She makes the game a lot more entertaining because she’s tweeting during the game. So that is not an account that you would probably think to follow, but if we actually bias towards interest, and we make it easier to follow interests and events, then we can introduce you to those magical accounts right away.

Harrison Barnes

Speaking of people who get a lot of attention on Twitter … earlier this year President Trump tweeted about my old teammate, Steph Curry. And athletes definitely didn’t stay silent about it. LeBron tweeted back right away, other athletes too. What did you think of how athletes responded?

Jack Dorsey

I think one of the things that we have seen that has been really powerful on the service is that people can speak truth to power. And the fact that anyone can call out a global leader and tell him or her what they think — is why we’re here. And we’ve seen it for over 11 years. You know, we sometimes get the question, “Why do we allow pseudonyms on the platform? Why do we allow anonymity on this platform?” And it’s exactly this reason.  I think anyone who can speak up to power and utilize our platform is extremely brave and courageous and also inspiring, and that’s what we need more of. We need to be able to acknowledge and also hold our leaders to account. And the more we can do it publicly, the more we can learn and the more we can inspire our leaders to do the same. 

Harrison Barnes

So who are some of your favorite athletes to follow on Twitter? Non-athletes?

Jack Dorsey

Colin Kaepernick — he’s been one that has kind of blurred that line between utilizing it for his career traditionally, but also utilizing it for activism. As you know, we’ve been a platform for so many activists globally, and to see him blur that line effectively, and encourage others and inspire others to do the same, is really powerful. So, he’s been the most notable recently.

“To see him blur that line effectively, and encourage others and inspire others to do the same, is really powerful.”

Jack Dorsey on Colin Kaepernick and activism on Twitter (0:59)

As far as non-athletes … when we started the company, we saw all these movements around the world. It wasn’t until Ferguson that we actually saw it in the United States. And for me that really hit home, because I’m from St. Louis and Ferguson is 10 minutes from my house where I grew up. Going to the streets of Ferguson, going on West Florissant and seeing how Twitter was being used — it was really powerful. And since that moment, we’ve just had so many activists within this country utilize it effectively. And the Parkland students, I was both surprised and inspired by — because people make a lot of assumptions that kids don’t use Twitter. And not only did these kids choose to use Twitter to amplify their movement, they also took to it to build and have more and more conversation. And it has persisted. It was amazing to see Emma, for instance, who went from 70 followers to over a million in no time — when the NRA has 400,000 accounts. To be able to get that amount of influence that quickly as a teenager on our platform was really inspiring, certainly for us, but more for the world. It was just very refreshing. I think 2018 is gonna be a year of more of that activism made manifest throughout all these issues. It’s inspiring that kids are leading the charge, as they should.

 

Harrison Barnes

Yeah, I noticed you’ve been vocal about gun violence. What are your personal thoughts on how we can reduce mass shootings? Do you feel Twitter has a role to play?

Jack Dorsey

I tweeted about this, but I think the platform that the Parkland students have put forth in terms of gun control is smart and something that is reasonable. It’s not going to fix everything, but it will certainly address many problems that will point to the next solutions. And I think that is the role Twitter has to play. We are the public conversation, and when the whole world can see this debate play out publicly, we can all see all these different perspectives and see these different opinions and get to a much better and stronger answer. So, that is one aspect. But I loved the agenda they put forth because it called on research, for instance. It didn’t just stop at guns.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images/March For Our Lives

Harrison Barnes

On that topic, about policy, Facebook is involved in this big privacy scandal. How is Twitter working to protect its users’ privacy?

Jack Dorsey

Well, for one thing, we’re a little bit different from our peers in that the majority of Twitter’s value is actually public. We’re not a social network. We don’t have the sort of information that you would expect to see in a social network. What we have all expressed publicly. So we have a very different approach fundamentally. Apart from that, for private things like DMs, for instance — we put privacy first and foremost. It’s a fundamental right that everyone who uses our service has, and we need to be clear in terms of what those rights entail — serving them first and us second.

Harrison Barnes

If you could go back to the early years Twitter and change one thing, what would it be?

Jack Dorsey

I probably would not emphasize follower count so much. I would look deeper at the incentives that the platform provides and not put so much emphasis on how many people follow you. I don’t know if it would have a dramatic impact and I don’t know how that change would manifest, but I would certainly consider what are we incentivizing people to do — and more importantly why.

Harrison Barnes

It feels like online harassment, especially of women and minorities, is worse than ever. How can Twitter do a better job of creating a more civil environment online?

Jack Dorsey

Our job is public conversation, so we’ve been asking ourselves a question, “Can we measure the health of a conversation?” We have a service that some people have been able to take advantage of to amplify harassment, abuse, misinformation — so we need to understand how and then continue to develop solutions around it. You know when you’re in a conversation that’s toxic. You know when you’re in a conversation that is empowering. So can we measure the health of the public conversation on Twitter? We know it’s possible — it’s just going to be a lot of hard work. The reason why we believe a health framework is important to focus on, rather than harassment alone, is because then you can address problems of harassment, you can address problems of abuse. You can address problems of misinformation, of manipulation through automation or through coordinated human campaigns, all these things that we’ve been seeing over the past years. And we need to understand how, and then as we continue to develop solutions around it, are they actually being effective?

So we’re trying to come up with a series of indicators of health for conversation, so that we can measure what the health is. When we know where we are, we can actually figure out if we’re making progress as we create tools for people to increase their health on the service. Because if we can’t measure it, we can’t improve it. And we realized that we can’t do this alone. We’ve made an open call for help here — we created an RFP — a request for proposal — to researchers and academics and organizations around the world to help us think about measuring conversational health and then help us think about treating any toxicity. And we are also committed to being open about all of our findings as well. We want to make sure that we are a trusted service, and trust to us means that we have to be transparent, that we have to be clear and consistent in our communication and that we need to hold ourselves accountable.

Sipa/AP Images

Harrison Barnes

Diversity in the workplace is important to young people — and Silicon Valley hasn’t really been a leader in that department. What real steps in the tech world and Twitter specifically can they take to increase diversity?

Jack Dorsey

First and foremost, we need to make diversity a priority. We need to recognize that we’re only going to build a product that is valuable to the world if we understand the world’s backgrounds and perspectives. The only way we’ll build a viable service is if we look a lot more like a cross-section of the world and include more folks who haven’t had a voice in the past.

But we’ve taken a slightly different take than I think you’ll hear in the industry, which is: Focus on inclusion first, then on diversity. Because if you just focus on diversity, then people come in and they don’t feel like they belong or they don’t feel included. Then they opt out, and they go somewhere else. So we first need to build a culture that is inclusive to everyone who is on our team right now — focusing on the people that we have and making life better for them. If we can get that right, then diversity becomes a lot easier.

To go back to the idea of focusing first on what we have: We have people who come to work in customer support, for instance, but they really want to be an engineer. We could take on a mindset of, Well, you need to go to college to become an engineer, and you need to come to our door having engineering skills. Or we could take a mindset of, What do you want to be? And how can we help you attain those skills? That’s what I would like us to focus on more. We have a bunch of people who have ambitions that are different from the jobs they hold in the company. We need to understand what those ambitions are and how do we build a path to help them get there? And we’ve shown that we can take someone who comes in at an quote-unquote entry-level job and has an ambition to be something different, and we’ve actually helped them get there. So, that’s a story I would love to be able to tell for a majority of our folks, but it’s going to take some time, and we need to focus more on it.

Harrison Barnes

These have been some heavier topics so we’ll switch to a little bit lighter. If you get to have dinner with three living people, who would they be?

Jack Dorsey

Malala, Kendrick Lamar and Steph Curry.

Rolf Vennenbernd/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Harrison Barnes

Haha. That’s a good group. I think you’ve probably been in the same room as all three — though maybe not at the same time. All right, last question, so I want to make sure to ask about sports. Twitter is great for following live sports while you watch TV, but do you see ways to improve that experience in the future?

Jack Dorsey

We’ve been experimenting with a number of new ways to do this. We do believe Twitter is amazing as a companion when you’re watching something. It can provide you insights that you didn’t see if you’re at the game or you’re watching on television that other commentators might see. It can make things more entertaining. And in the past, we haven’t had really cohesive experiences around watching a game with Twitter. And now, you’ll notice, if you express any sort of interest by way of following a particular athlete or following a team or tweeting about a team or a keyword that matches it, at the top of your timeline when a game is on that we have a “What’s Happening” module. You can tap into it, and you can see all the conversation around it. And sometimes we might actually have that game live. So you can watch right on Twitter if you’re commuting home or if you’re in the office and you’re not in front of a bigger screen. But the most important thing that we do is really the conversation. So that’s what we’re trying to emphasize. And while it’s amazing and feels electric when you can catch something live, I think Twitter’s also really good at recap and showing you what actually mattered within a particular event or a particular sport. Not everyone in the world can catch something live because they’re busy or they’re sleeping or whatever is going on, but everyone can actually benefit from a strong recap of what happened and why it mattered.

Harrison Barnes

Jack, thanks for talking today. See you in person sometime soon. But definitely online before that.

Jack Dorsey

Thanks, Harrison. Always a pleasure.

Harrison Barnes
Dallas Mavericks