Why the best referees for Twitter and Facebook may be the people who work there

Donald Trump boards Air Force One on January 12, 2021. | Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The big platforms finally policed Donald Trump. But there’s no one — really — to police the platforms except their owners and employees.

Who convinced Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg to kick Donald Trump off of their platforms last week?

Activists and organizers at Twitter and Facebook say it was pressure from employees. PR reps for the companies say that’s not the case, and that the leaders of those companies made the call on their own.

Kevin Roose thinks the answer is somewhere in the middle.

On the one hand, the New York Times tech columnist says, the calls were partly the result of employee lobbying.

“An underreported part of the Twitter-banning-Donald-Trump decision was that the day before, a group of hundreds of Twitter employees had basically sent a letter to Jack Dorsey making it clear that they didn’t want to work at a company that provided a platform for an insurrectionist,” Roose told me on this week’s episode of Recode Media. “And employees at Facebook have been agitating for harsher punishments for Donald Trump for years. And these companies live and die on their ability to recruit and retain top talent. That’s a large part of what drives them to make these decisions.”

On the other hand, Roose says, it is also very much a personal decision for the two men: “I think that, presented with something like a mob at the Capitol, I think they saw a very clear kind of fork in the road for them. Do they want to be the kind of company, the kind of executive who allows this to happen on their platforms, or do they not want to be? Ultimately, I think that in some cases it comes down to a judgment call about what you want to tell your kids and grandkids.”

The debate over who gets credit for deplatforming the president of the United States won’t get settled anytime soon — if ever — since it requires access to the inside of Dorsey’s and Zuckerberg’s brains. But there’s a larger, more important point here: The reason the answer matters is that the companies Dorsey and Zuckerberg own and run have enormous impact on our lives. And there’s no reasonable expectation that anyone outside their companies will have any meaningful impact on how they run them.

That was the point Roose made in his most recent Times column, and the main throughline of our conversation, which you can hear below or on the podcast platform of your choice.

The aftermath of the Capitol riot gave us plenty of other ideas to talk about as well. So on this one, you’ll also find us discussing why Roose thinks Trump’s forced departure from social media is a one-off event, not a slippery slope; why YouTube has a major-but-mostly-unexamined role in creating the environment that got us to last week’s debacle; and why Reddit, surprisingly, could provide a model for a less toxic — or at least less dangerous — form of social media.

I wish I could tell you that I leavened this week’s episode with something fun and light, but that would be false advertising: After talking to Roose, I also talked to NBC News reporter Ben Collins, who had already warned us about the enormous dangers of the QAnon cult last fall. But since QAnon was a major driver in the Capitol riot (see, among many others: Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot and killed by a police officer while storming the building), I had Collins back to explain the way QAnon has shape-shifted from a fantastical conspiracy theory about child sex slavery to a fantastical conspiracy theory about election fraud and Trump’s dangerous attempt to harness it.

The only good news available here: At least many more of us are paying attention to this global information pandemic.

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