Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who served as the social platform’s first CEO in 2007 until he was forced out the following year and then returned to the role in 2015, is again without job – this time, he says, by choice.
In a letter posted to his Twitter account, Dorsey said he was “really sad…but really happy” to be leaving the company and that it was his decision. Dorsey gave no specific reason for his resignation beyond an abstract argument that Twitter, where he spent 16 years in various roles, should “break away from its founders and founders.” Dependence on business founders, he wrote, is “severely limiting.”
It’s the end of six tumultuous years on the social platform, in which Twitter has been plagued by slow growth, weathered an investor revolt, grappled with accusations of failing to deal the issues of hate speech, harassment and other harmful activity and finally took the extraordinary step of banning a sitting US president for creating a danger to public safety during the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill American.
Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, said Dorsey leaves behind a mixed legacy.
“I think Twitter has obviously had a very big influence in American public affairs, in journalism, in politics, to some extent in culture. And a lot of that influence has been good,” Barrett said. “But it also turns out he had a darker side and…has been exploited for years by people who want to harass other people and spread lies about other individuals, about groups of individuals, on the state of democracy.
Dorsey defended former President Donald Trump’s ban, saying his tweets after the Capitol riot endangered public safety and created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company. Trump sued Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, in July for alleged censorship.
Dorsey has faced several distractions as CEO, starting with the fact that he is also the founder and CEO of payment company Square. Some major investors have openly questioned whether he could run the two companies effectively.
Barrett thinks the founders of big companies, including other social media giants like Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, should relinquish control of the day-to-day operations of their entities “sooner than they tend to.”
“I think there’s a natural tendency to want to cling to your baby, guide it and shape it,” Barrett said. “But it’s a very different role to come up with the idea in the first place and refine it in its very early years and then execute it when it becomes something that has hundreds of millions of users.”
Twitter named its current chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal, as CEO effective Monday. Dorsey will remain on the board until his term expires in 2022.
Agrawal joined Twitter in 2011, has been CTO since 2017, and is far less well-known than Dorsey.
He previously worked at Microsoft, Yahoo and AT&T in research roles. At Twitter, he worked on machine learning, revenue and consumer engineering, and helping drive audience growth. An immigrant from India, Agrawal studied at Stanford and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay.
As CEO, he will have to step out of his largely technical background and confront the social and political issues facing Twitter and social media, including misinformation, abuse and mental health effects. Not to mention congressional efforts to regulate social platforms like Twitter to deal with the damage they are supposed to cause, which could have a significant impact on their business.
“Twitter has sent signals to the world that it realizes it needs to do more as a business to control its platform in order to deliver on the promise that Dorsey has decided to promote what he likes to call conversation. and specifically to promote the health of the conversation, making it constructive and open rather than destructive and malicious or misleading,” Barrett said. “And I really think we need to give the new person a chance to explain for themselves …which she intends to do.”
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