Twitter must change or die

(This is an expansion on a set of tweets I posted on September 30th, 2017.)

The hideous abuse of Twitter’s users and the lack of strong response from leadership is striking, but Biz Stone’s FEELS got hurt, so here we are. The libertarian mindset of the web, the belief that you own your own words and the best idea may win, is being subverted and abused. The answer is not to use your team as an emotional shield.

There’s this movement on to get Donald Trump banned from Twitter. Mike Monteiro is a troublesome leader of this movement, namely in that he’s shouting over the voices of the many who’ve suffered from Trump’s abuse and Twitter’s wishy-washy response.  That said, there wouldn’t be a movement if Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone CARED ABOUT THEIR CLIENTELE.

I get it. They need to get this business solvent. But the consequences of ignoring users in the name of advertisers is dangerous. They are making one of the biggest mistakes in product management: Focusing on the money, not on the product and users.

Instead of putting the energy into answering the HARD social questions they’ve uncorked, they just release features and whine when pushed. They can’t afford it. Doxxing is just the “cost of doing business.” They flaunt anti-abuse mores just as large corporations flaunt safety and privacy regulations. (I once had someone from a large telecom admit to me that they didn’t care about being 100% compliant with privacy because the fines were just considered “cost of doing business.”)

But Twitter cares, they say. They try, or at least put up a show of trying. But end of the day, Gamergate is just a PR nuisance compared to features the Wall Street people and advertisers like. Twitter is like every company that cares about quarterly results and not about the long term. The cost of abuse is lower than solving it.

It all comes down to the great comment on MetaFilter: “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” Mike can yell at Jack and Biz all he wants. But stoking abuse and fomenting war only matter if it hurts Twitter’s customers: Advertisers.

All of us Twitter users are the product, the eyes Twitter sells to advertisers who are their actual customers.

Jack and Biz suffer from the same Silicon Valley myopia that brought us Uber’s hideous behavior (harassment, hard-driving PR campaigns, win-at-any-cost, flaunt the rules if it means winning.) And they can’t see that. Silicon Valley is a gravity lens like that.

I want to be an optimist, but until they hire someone who truly speaks for the abused in their boardroom, they won’t change. Until there’s a drive from the C-level down to end Twitter’s bad record on harassment, Trust and Safety are just window dressing.

So it doesn’t matter how much Mike yells. They’re fucked until they get some revenue from the people who fucking care about ending abuse.

I still like Twitter. But I no longer love it. And I can do nothing about it with my 10 years and 3,000 followers because I don’t matter. I don’t generate revenue for them. None of us do.

We’re not the customer. We’re the product. And if you have a problem with it, Biz thinks we should just ignore it and keep scrolling. Don’t like 280 characters? Keep scrolling. Don’t like the treatment of women and people of color on Twitter? Keep scrolling. Positivity!

Twitter must change or die.

And I have little hope they’ll change now. Not as long as we, the users, don’t matter to the bottom line.

Author: Dylan Wilbanks

Dylan Wilbanks is a web roustabout, raconteur, and curmudgeon currently practicing as a user experience designer in Seattle. He’s spent over 15 years designing, building, and perfecting online experiences, and every once in a while does a good job. Occasionally, he speaks at conferences like SXSW and Webvisions. He created one of the first Twitter accounts used in higher education, but that was an accident, and he’s really sorry about it.

With Kyle Weems, he co-hosts Squirrel And Moose, a podcast about designing and building the web, when they remember to talk about it.

He likes nectarines.

You can read his tweets at @dylanw and learn more at dylanwilbanks.com.