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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday defended the company’s decision this week to put Infowars’ Alex Jones in a seven-day “timeout” after Jones urged his viewers to ready their “battle rifles” against the media.
Dorsey said he resisted banning Jones, the embattled conspiracy theorist and radio host, despite calls to do so, some of which came from inside Twitter.
“We can’t build a service that is subjective just to the whims of what we personally believe,” Dorsey told NBC News’ Lester Holt in an exclusive interview.
Dorsey said he believes the suspension can be effective and is consistent with the company’s policies.
“I feel any suspension, whether it be a permanent or a temporary one, makes someone think about their actions and their behaviors,” Dorsey said.
When asked by Holt if he believes Jones will change his behavior, Dorsey said he did not know.
“Whether it works within this case to change some of those behaviors and change some of those actions, I don't know,” Dorsey said. “But this is consistent with how we enforce.”
Watch the interview Wednesday evening on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.
Jones was banned or restricted from using the services of at least 10 tech companies this month, including Facebook and YouTube. Twitter had been the most high-profile holdout, until it announced on Tuesday that Jones was suspended from posting for seven days.
Dorsey later clarified on Twitter that he was "speaking broadly about our range of enforcement actions" with regards to the company's use of timeouts.
"I don’t assume everyone will change their actions. Enforcement gets tougher with further reported violations," Dorsey tweeted.
Dorsey’s interview comes after months of scrutiny on both him and Twitter for what critics say has been a sluggish response to systemic problems on the platform, including harassment, bots and hate speech. In the interview, Dorsey offered insight into the company’s decision-making process, but also showed that it is still struggling to figure out how to manage the platform it created.
In response to a question about Jones, Dorsey said that “the most important thing for us is that we are consistent in applying our enforcement.”
But in a follow-up question on weighing the importance of Twitter’s rules versus its moral obligation, Dorsey said the company has “to put the safety of individuals first in every single thing that we do, and we need to enforce our rules and also evolve our rules around that.”
Dorsey said trying to strike a balance between consistency and moral obligation had led the company to consider a policy around dehumanizing speech — one that could potentially ensnare Jones, who was banned from Facebook for what the social network called dehumanizing speech directed at Muslims, immigrants and transgender people.
Dorsey also said that he personally felt that other companies had been inconsistent with how they dealt with Jones.
"I think some of the actions have been, in my own personal view, a little bit inconsistent," Dorsey said.
Jones, who has peddled a litany of conspiracy theories over the years including the idea that the Sandy Hook school shooting massacre was a hoax, will be free to continue tweeting and broadcasting from the Twitter-owned video-streaming service Periscope next week, where he often livestreams.
Dorsey said he feels “terrible” at the pain Jones has caused the Sandy Hook families and acknowledged that the company had been slow to respond.
“I think we have felt behind and we have felt that we have moved too slow in a lot of our actions,” he said.
Jones may be Twitter’s latest scandal, but the company continues to deal with an older problem — how to clean up the platform after it was weaponized by Russian bots that pushed misinformation and divisive content in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. election.
“Election integrity is our first priority this year,” Dorsey said.
A big part of that effort has been combatting bots, which are automated accounts used to manipulate the discourse on Twitter. The company is using technology to fight back, and it is showing progress. Last month, Twitter said its technology was capable of identifying more than 9.9 million potential spam accounts per week and shutting them down.
Dorsey said the system is still being improved and noted that the company is considering other solutions as well.
“We need to make sure that we are considering not just policy changes, but also product changes to help alleviate some of these concerns,” he said.
As Twitter tries to combat the weaponization of its platform, the company is also feeling the heat from the country’s political divide, especially when its most prominent user is the president of the United States.
Dorsey has appeared particularly sensitive to claims that Twitter suppresses conservative voices. Twitter came under fire last month after President Donald Trump and some Republican lawmakers claimed that Twitter was burying certain conservative accounts, a process that has been referred to as "shadow banning."
In a radio interview with the conservative personality Sean Hannity last week, Dorsey spoke directly to a Republican audience and said Twitter does not ban accounts based on political ideology.
When asked by Holt if Dorsey felt the rhetoric from conservatives was more extreme than from liberals, Dorsey demurred and instead said it was important to focus on actions rather than words.
“We need to look at behaviors, when people are trying to shut down the voices of others,” Dorsey said. “People are trying to harass others. And that's independent of a viewpoint.”
Dorsey said that while the company has been working toward improving the health of the conversation on Twitter, he’s cognizant of what the company has done — or not done — in the past and that it has had a negative effect on some people.
“Three years ago, we prioritized health and safety as our No. 1 priority in the company,” he said “And we're coming from 10 years of not doing that. So there is a lot of debt that we have to pay down. There is a lot of infrastructure that we have to change. There's a lot of policy that we have to look critically at.”