That was clear again this week when Twitter engineers took to the site to push back against CEO Jack Dorsey's comments about why notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is still on the platform when other tech companies have banished him. Even as other social media sites have cracked down on hate speech and dehumanizing language, Twitter has been called out for remaining a place full of harassment and pointed attacks—by not changing its policies to keep up with the forms of abuse on its site, and by not applying those policies consistently. This didn’t go over well with journalists—many pointed out that we spend a lot of time fact-checking nonsense, but that it’s not our job to keep a viral disinformation incubator healthy; it’s our job to report facts. Also if your site is the only one that allows this hate and harassment, it will get overrun and collapse.” Mike Cvet, another current Twitter engineer, tweeted, “I don't agree with everything Twitter does or doesn't do. If we can consistently enforce the policies and terms of service for the platform, that's a good thing. Ben Sanger, now an engineer at Etsy, tweeted that he was glad they were speaking up, but added in a separate tweet that “The only time I ever truly saw Twitter leadership looking worried was when @deray and others pledged not to tweet. “We’re going to move up our timeline around evaluating a policy governing off-platform behavior.” The latter policy, if enacted, could mean that even if Jones or someone similar didn’t break Twitter’s terms of service on the platform directly, his behavior on other sites could count against him. That power engineers have to hold their bosses to account also underscores how important it is for tech companies to address gender and racial imbalances within their ranks. But engineers also shape the companies where they work. As Horne noted, that these engineers felt comfortable doing so says something good about company culture at Twitter.
In Silicon Valley, engineers are king. Tech companies succeed or fail based on the talent of their developers, which gives those workers the leverage to shape the company culture. So when your engineers tell you there’s a problem, you listen. That was clear again this week when Twitter engineers took to the site to push back against CEO Jack Dorsey’s comments about why notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is still on the platform when other tech companies have banished him.
Dorsey responded to his engineers publicly, thanking them for their thoughts and pledging to do better. It’s a moment that underscores, again, how highly skilled employees within organizations have the chance to be powerful advocates for change. “Engineers have the loudest voices in companies. In my experience when engineers really rally around something the leadership really changes it,” former Google product lead Kathy Pham told WIRED earlier this summer, shortly after tech employees at Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Salesforce rebelled against what they saw as unethical policies. Most of these campaigns started internally before they hit the public eye.
In response to another article I wrote about these movements, Google Cloud Platform engineer Liz Fong-Jones wrote, “Tech employees are speaking up about a lot of things, most of which don’t make it into the news; making it into the news is a failure mode that indicates management intransigence, not a lack of concern by employees.” Twitter has spent much of the past year discussing the “health” of its platform, both internally and in public. The topic came up again last week at a company offsite, Kara Swisher reported in The New York Times. The company has also introduced measures to decrease the reach of accounts it deems unhealthy.
Impartiality and free speech have long been cherished values at Twitter, and they’re its argument for not banning hateful accounts on the site. Even as other social media sites have cracked down on hate speech and dehumanizing language, Twitter has been called out for remaining a place full of harassment and pointed attacks—by not changing its policies to keep up with the forms of abuse on its site, and by not applying those policies consistently.
The pressure on Twitter to ban Jones from its platform grew exponentially this week, though, after other major companies like Apple, Facebook, and YouTube started taking action against him for violating their terms of service. On Tuesday, Dorsey tweeted, “We…