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Twitter CEO defends Trump ban, cites threats to physical safety

Jack Dorsey said that the company was in an untenable position but that barring users was not a long-term solution.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in September 2018.Chris Wattie / Reuters file

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday defended the company's decision last week to permanently ban President Donald Trump.

"After a clear warning we'd take this action, we made a decision with the best information we had based on threats to physical safety both on and off Twitter," Dorsey said in a thread on Twitter, talking about the ban for the first time.

He said the circumstances were "extraordinary and untenable," forcing Twitter staff members to put all of their focus on public safety.

"Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all," he said.

The reference to physical threats echoes concerns from law enforcement and private sector intelligence analysts who said there was a significant increase in violent rhetoric and planning on the internet around last week's siege of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Concerns that violence could be repeated have continued into this week, with state and federal authorities preparing for potential violence in Washington, D.C., and at state capitols.

But Dorsey also said he was concerned about the long-term implications of so many tech companies' cutting ties with the president, a phenomenon known as deplatforming. He said any ban is a "failure" by the company to promote healthy conversation.

"This moment in time might call for this dynamic, but over the long term it will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet," he said.

In a nod to allegations that the ban amounts to censorship or highlights the power concentrated in Silicon Valley, Dorsey said that "a company making a business decision to moderate itself is different from a government removing access, yet can feel much the same."

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Dorsey said he did not believe the actions by tech companies were coordinated. He said Twitter was continuing to work toward building a decentralized social media standard that would limit the influence of any one company.

Twitter's ban of Trump was years in the making after he repeatedly violated Twitter's rules, including its ban on making threats. The company rewrote part of its rulebook in 2018 to allow world leaders to remain on the platform even after they violated some rules, a change that followed complaints about Trump, which the company said was necessary to hold leaders accountable.

Anti-Trump protesters for years put personal blame on Dorsey for not having kicked Trump off the platform, saying he was "complicit" in Trump's actions.