Should Twitter delete the president’s personal account? Paul Ford and Rich Ziade tackled this hotly-debated question in the first-ever live episode of Track Changes, recorded at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan as part of IxDA’s Interaction 17 conference. They take turns playing the fictional CEO of Twitter as he visits various departments, from tech to legal to PR to investor relations to design, to talk about whether they could delete the account — and what the ramifications would be if they “hit the big red button.” They also take in a variety of perspectives on the question with comments from the audience.
Paul Ford: Hi, I’m Paul Ford. I’m the co-founder of Postlight, and this is Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight, a digital product studio at 101 Fifth Avenue in New York City. I’m joined, as always, by my co-founder, Rich Ziade.
Rich Ziade: Hello!
Paul: Rich, we’re doing something weird today.
Rich: I don’t know about weird?
Rich: I think it’s natural.
Rich: It’s feeling natural to me.
Paul: We’re gonna go down the street.
Paul: We’re gonna stand up and go down the street to the SVA Theatre around 8th Avenue and 23rd Street.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: And we are going to get in front of 100, 200 people and we’re gonna record Track Changes in front of those people.
Rich: That’s insane.
Paul: And this is the IxDA: Interaction Design education-focused summit.
Rich: Yes. We have no business doing this.
Paul: We’re not…why would people ask us to do anything?
Rich: But I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun.
Rich: But —
Paul: We got a hot topic.
Rich: Wait. Before we embark on this journey, we should tell people that tonight, if you happen to be in the San Francisco area…
Paul: That’s right. Tuesday, February 7, 2017…
Rich: There will be drinks with Rich and Paul.
Paul: At Whitechapel.
Rich: That’s right. If you can make it, come out for a drink. We’ll buy you a drink.
Paul: We will. We’re gonna put the credit card down on that one.
Rich: We’re…we’re usually in New York City, worth noting.
Paul: So we’re out in San Francisco, drop us a line. We’re gonna be at the NewCo Shift forum. Meetin’ and greetin’. Sellin’ services. Talkin’ the walk.
Paul: Entrepreneurin’. [laughter]
Rich: It’s gonna be fun.
Paul: But anyway, come have a drink. We’d love to meet you if you’re a fan of the podcast, and even if you don’t have a seven-figure deal for us to discuss, we still wanna shake your hand.
Rich: We do.
Paul: All right, let’s go down the block and let’s let an audience judge our podcasting skills.
Rich: Exactly. Let’s do this.
Paul: OK, you’re about to hear some audience noise. It’s about to get real weird.
Rich: Let’s do this!
[as promised, audience noise]
Paul: Hello. Hello, hello, hello. All right, so we’ve never done this before. We’ve never done a live, semi-live version of our podcast, Track Changes. OK, we’ve got 29 minutes and 51 seconds. Let’s, let’s just set it up like we usually do. Hi, my name is Paul Ford, and I am the co-founder of Postlight.
Rich: And I’m Rich Ziade, the other co-founder of Postlight.
Paul: And you are listening to Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight. You might’ve heard that name before. A digital product studio at 101 Fifth Avenue in New York City. Thank you for listening. Rich, what are we gonna talk about on our podcast that comes out Tuesday morning?
Rich: We’re gonna throw a question out, and focus on that question.
Paul: OK. Because this is, this is an event about design education.
Rich: Right. We found that out after we came up with the question. [laughter]
Rich: But it comes together at some point.
Paul: We’ll fit it in. We’ll make it work. So you might have heard of a company called Twitter. And just this week, in fact, we saw a quote from the former CEO of Twitter. This is from Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter. “I wish I could turn back the clock and go back to 2010 and stop abuse on the platform by creating a very specific bar for how to behave on the platform.”
Rich: Now he tells us, Paul.
Rich: That’s a heavy statement, actually.
Paul: That’s a heavy statement, and you know, that’s a reaction to the fact that we’re living in an era in which Twitter is one of the primary vehicles of communication for the president of the United States.
Rich: It is.
Paul: And it’s —
Rich: Now, pause for a second. That’s a really positive statement standing on its own.
Paul: That’s right.
Paul: It sounds like it could be OK. It sounds like it’s going well.
Rich: It sounds like everything’s going well.
Paul: But it’s really, really not.
Rich: Well, let’s…not jump to conclusions.
Paul: OK, OK, actually, so there’s two Twitter accounts, right? There’s @POTUS, which is the President of the Unite States. Barack Obama had that, Donald Trump has it now. And then there’s @realDonaldTrump.
Rich: Correct. And it’s worth noting, @POTUS gets handed off the same way they hand off the White House and they hand off the staff —
Paul: It’s sort of property of the US government.
Rich: It’s sort of property of the US government, so I think upon Trump swearing in, I think they archived…
Paul: They archived Barack Obama’s tweets, they put them somewhere else.
Rich: They put them in @POTUS44, actually they called it.
Paul: And the understanding was kind of like, and Barack Obama did this, he sort of stopped tweeting as Barack Obama, for the most part.
Rich: For the most part.
Paul: And started to tweet as, first at the White House, and later, much later, as the @POTUS account, but the idea is this is the official channel. You’re the president, you’re gonna talk through a presidential channel. This has not happened. @realDonaldTrump continues to broadcast to 22, 23 million followers.
Rich: Which is the other Twitter account, which is the account that is his own personal account, which he’s had for years.
Paul: Now, the issue is, if you look around online, as more and more things come out from the president of the United States through that Twitter account, more and more people have started to ask Twitter, often addressing @jack, who’s the new CEO — Jack Dorsey — of Twitter, saying, “Delete this account.” They want to delete Donald Trump’s account. They want Twitter, in fact, to delete Donald Trump’s account.
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: Because they feel that Donald Trump, who is the president of the United States, is harassing.
Rich: Well, I wouldn’t even jump to that rationale, as to why they want to delete it. There is a sentiment out there that Twitter should delete Donald Trump’s account, and I think the motivations and the emotions behind it vary pretty widely. I think, I don’t think anybody’s going in and looking up the Terms of Service and saying, “Wait a minute guys, he’s violating the Terms of Service.” I think there’s a lot going on here.
Paul: A lot of emotion here, it’s very intense.
Rich: So the question that we want to pose for the rest of the podcast is should Twitter delete @realDonaldTrump off of Twitter?
Paul: And so the way that we’re asking everyone in this room to be the CEO and, and to think as the CEO. A sort of, not just as Jack, but as, as sort of a virtual CEO of Twitter. And we’re going to walk through the decision-making process that we imagine that would be involved to even consider and start to understand this question at the scope of a company like Twitter. Twitter is, you know, like, $20 billion, $20-billion company, by market cap it has 1,500 employees.
Rich: Big company.
Paul: It’s a big company. So…
Rich: It has to answer to a lot, and…
Paul: This is a big decision.
Rich: Right, and maybe we should say something about why we’re bringing this up at a design conference, at an education design conference.
Paul: A lot of conversation in our business is about skills. It’s about tools and skills. So interaction design, information architecture, you start to, when I say those words, you start to see boxes in your head, you start to see grids and lines and think about sketch and think about, you know, Figma, and all the other tools that everybody’s talking about. The reality —
Rich: Clark from InVision.
Paul: Clark — [laughter] No, is it Clark? What’s his name?
Rich: Clark from InVision.
Paul: Clark from InVision! We’ve tried to get him on our podcast, he won’t reply —
Rich: We’ve been trying to get Clark, we got his email address, we tried to get him on the podcast.
Paul: We sent him five emails and we got in touch with their VC….
Rich: Of course, the emails —
Paul: Clark will not —
Rich: He emails me twice a week, it’s worth noting.
Paul: It hurts.
Rich: It hurts. It hurts.
Paul: It hurts now, because we want Clark from InVision on our show.
Paul: But we talk a lot about these tools, but we want to sort of dramatize the real product decisions and the way that design doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens in a very specific cultural context, because personally as people who hire designers, engineers, product managers, the more people can think this way, the better. And so imagine you’re the CEO of Twitter, and everyone’s telling you, “Delete his account.”
Paul: What’s the first thing you do?
Rich: Well, I mean, as a CEO, there are a lot of different sort of wings to the business that report up to you, and a lot of different, you know, different people represent different facets of the business, right? And so this is a big move.
Paul: We’ve got to talk across the disciplines, get all the input that we can.
Rich: Across the disciplines, right?
Rich: So first, technically, this is a pretty easy one.
Paul: Let’s go to tech. Can we do this?
Rich: Can we do this?
Paul: So you’re the tech guy. I walk in. I’ll be the CEO.
Paul: Hey, buddy.
Paul: I got a question for you, big one, but you can’t tell anybody.
Paul: No, for real. You can’t tweet this out.
Rich: I promise.
Paul: I know you have a secret account. Don’t do it.
Rich: Right. Go.
Paul: All right. Can we erase Donald Trump’s Twitter account?
Rich: Can we, can I go and…?
Paul: Can we shut it down for harassment?
Rich: Pull up a console and erase his account?
Rich: Yeah. I could do it right now. It’ll take a minute.
Paul: That’s it? It’s just a minute?
Rich: Yeah. No problem.
Paul: Because it’s just like a regular harassment scenario. No big deal.
Rich: Well I don’t really care why you’re asking me to delete it, but I can delete it — technically, I wouldn’t really delete it, I’d just shut it off…
Paul: So all I have to say is hit the red button?
Paul: All right —
Rich: I mean, I’d probably be pretty careful, he’s got a lot of followers out there, the way it trickles out might be interesting, but yeah, I can do it, no problem.
Paul: You might wanna have a couple meetings, make sure it’s all good…
Rich: Yeah. It’s a big account. I mean, it’s followed by millions of people.
Paul: Do you see any reason specifically not to?
Rich: Not to from a technical perspective?
Paul: Because that’s the only reason I’m talking to you.
Paul: All right.
Rich: All right. [laughter]
Paul: So that’s it, we’ve dispatched technology.
Paul: I mean, really we’re done at this point. We could just go ahead and do it.
Rich: Yeah. Just let me know.
Paul: OK, so no big deal.
Paul: All right, so that’s, so that’s tech. We’re done.
Paul: In fact, if I want to do it, I can just go into the console.
Paul: I could say, make me a big red button?
Rich: I mean, if you want a big red button…
Paul: If I woke up to —
Rich: I can do that for you as well.
Paul: If I woke up at two in the morning, I’m like, to hell with it, enough….
Rich: I could give you that tool.
Paul: All right.
Rich: If you really want to do it that way, yes.
Paul: All right, so that’s where we’re at from a technical perspective on deleting this account. So now legal’s walked in the room, and actually they’re like 15 minutes late, it’s fine.
Rich: [laughter] They’re grumpy.
Paul: And this one, I have no idea. What is, what is the issue here? Like, why do I, why does legal even need to be in the room?
Rich: Well, am I legal now?
Paul: Yeah, be legal.
Rich: Can I be legal?
Paul: Rich is a lawyer. People may not know that. Was a lawyer.
Rich: Was a lawyer. Recovering lawyer. So we got to check a few things here. When people sign up to Twitter, Donald Trump included, they agree to a set of terms that essentially establishes an agreement between the service and the user.
Paul: That’s the Terms of Service.
Rich: That’s the Terms of Service.
Paul: Nobody’s ever read the Terms of Service.
Rich: Most people don’t read the Terms of Service. We do need that flag that they check off, that they read the Terms of Service, and that they agree to it. So…
Paul: So there’s some polite fiction that they have engaged in into this contract.
Rich: Correct. And most of the, a lot of the Terms of Service is what they shouldn’t do. That’s in there. And in fact, Twitter points to a set of rules that say that you agree to abide by the rules, and actually we just recently updated those rules. Harassment’s become a big problem on Twitter, so we actually have a set of guidelines that you have to, you have to adhere to, and if you don’t, we have the right to shut you off. And we do this all the time, by the way. We are shutting people off that are, for example, inciting violence, harassing others, infringing on copyrights —
Paul: Probably posting certain kinds of pornography, or…
Rich: Posting certain types of pornography. We will, we will just shut —
Paul: So there’s a legal framework for Twitter turning somebody off.
Rich: There is. And so what you need to do, and I haven’t done this yet, is rummage through his tweets to see if any violate our Terms.
Paul: So you’re saying, well wait, I’m Twitter, I kind of own the whole system. I’m the CEO.
Paul: Can I turn anyone off for any reason at all?
Paul: No? I can’t?
Paul: But I’ve got the big red button.
Rich: Well look: you could. I’m speaking from a legal perspective. If you did that, then we are exposed, legally. And —
Paul: So —
Rich: Someone could come after us and say that’s really, that’s not cool, that’s not fair, I’m gonna sue you, because you violated our agreement.
Paul: Oh, so the Terms of Service is actually two ways?
Rich: It’s an agreement, that’s right.
Paul: OK, so I have actually, even though you’ve never given me any money or anything, I am kind of obligated to you as a user.
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: Right now, the understanding that I have, because I haven’t turned off Donald Trump, is that this is a two-way relationship and I kind of owe him…I’m gonna follow the rules on his behalf.
Rich: Yeah. I could forward you one of the emails we’d send out when we shut someone off. We do share the criteria and the reason and the tweets that led us to that decision and we, we send that along, so people have an idea of why we did it.
Paul: All right, so you’re my lawyer. I can go back in, I can find evidence of harassment. I could almost, like, I just poke through those old tweets. Inciting violence, like every president ever has incited violence at some level, right?
Rich: At some level.
Paul: OK, so it’s very likely I can prove my case?
Rich: It is likely you can prove your case. I will point out, though, even though this feels like we’ve got this buttoned up, this is a very powerful person with a lot of resources who can go ahead and sue us anyway.
Rich: And —
Paul: The lawsuit’s no big deal. We can handle that, right?
Rich: Well there’s a couple of dimensions to it. One is lawsuits can be really costly and very draining.
Rich: But the other thing is lawsuits can look really bad, right? And if we’re, you know, half of the headlines in the world are about Twitter getting sued, or the progress of the lawsuit, that’s just not a good scene for Twitter, right? So there’s a lot going on here, right? I mean, this is an individual who in fact has used the law not to necessarily win lawsuits, but to intimidate and to —
Paul: How so. Wait, what do you mean?
Rich: Well you could sue someone and go after them…
Paul: Oh, this is someone who’s sued lots and lots of people.
Rich: He’s sued lots of people in the past.
Paul: So we could assume the president of the United States is going to sue Twitter like crazy for violation of the Terms of Service?
Rich: Again, I don’t know if he will, but there’s a good chance that we’re gonna be in a bad situation there. So it’s not really just a matter of reading the fine print and whether he’s adhering to it or not, it’s also a matter of whether it’s worth it for Twitter, from a legal perspective.
Paul: OK. The employees want to do this. What do you, as your lawyer, what do you say?
Rich: From a legal perspective?
Paul: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: Uh…are you asking me if he’s, if we would be in violation of our own terms?
Rich: We would not be in violation of our own terms. We can do this from a strictly legal perspective.
Paul: Which, and also, ethically, we’ve entered into this agreement.
Rich: Uh…let’s not equate the law with ethics. That’s a much larger conversation, Paul. [laughter] Right?
Paul: But nonetheless, if I want to go to sleep at night saying I followed to the letter of the law the agreement that I entered into?
Paul: I probably could do that. I could shut this thing off. I could hit my big red button.
Rich: Yes you could.
Rich: Yes, you could.
Paul: All right, so that’s, that, we’ve talked to the lawyer.
Rich: Correct. Now, as I said, you should probably talk to public relations if you’re gonna make this move.
Paul: All right, let’s be PR here. So the CEO says hey, we’re gonna shut off the big one. We’re gonna do it.
Paul: I got the red button. Legal says we can do it, everybody wants to do it, there’s a little give-and-take as to whether it’s the right thing, but if we do it, what’s gonna happen?
Rich: Uh, it’s gonna be a lot of attention on Twitter, for sure. It’ll be very, very big news.
Paul: Yeah, well we’re not hurting for attention or big news right now.
Paul: I’m taking a lot of heat from people who are telling me that they want this thing gone.
Rich: True. But I, as your PR person, I’m thinking about the whole audience for Twitter, and while you found some reasons here, this is someone that got elected president.
Paul: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: There’s a huge swath of the country that helped him get elected.
Paul: Yeah, I don’t think a lot of those are our users, are they?
Rich: Um, you’d be surprised.
Rich: In fact, he’s speaking to many of them through Twitter right now.
Paul: Are they maybe, OK, so yeah, some of them probably signed up just for him.
Rich: Yeah. And let’s put aside him for a second. The story, I’m not gonna be able to get version five that’s coming out, and the crazy new feature, and the new agreement we’ve got coming with the NBA.
Paul: So for months —
Rich: I can’t get a — yeah, this is gonna be the loudest thing that’s happening for a pretty long time. So this is, this is…
Paul: Well is that a risk, or is it us making a bold stand? Maybe people will stand up behind us and say, “Great job, Twitter.”
Rich: Uh yeah, I mean, look, I hate the guy. I’m public relations right now for a second, so I say shut it off, but you should just know that I’m not gonna be able to do my job for a while.
Paul: OK, so this is the only story about Twitter for the next…
Rich: It’s gonna be big, it’s gonna be a pretty big story, yeah. Now, you talk about bold stance and you’re taking a position here, which is you feel like, I guess, is the right position to take, right?
Paul: Well it’s a complicated one, because for years we talked about free speech, and how we were a platform for free speech.
Paul: But now we’re seeing, and there’s kind of two classes of users on Twitter, right? There’s maybe less than 100 followers, can kind of say anything they want, occasionally get reported for stuff, but are kind of talking either to their friends, favoriting their friends, so on and so forth. So those are almost the civilians. And that thing works like any network. It’s like the phone system. It’s fairly personal. Every now and then someone gets, like, 1,000 retweets.
Rich: Are you still the CEO?
Paul: I’m just thinking out loud here for a sec.
Rich: OK, because there’s someone else who wants to speak to you.
Paul: Ah. Investor relations came in. [concerned hissing noise]
Rich: Yeah, I heard about your bold stance, and about free speech. It’s worth noting we’re a $13 billion public company, and I’ve got an investor community that I have to answer to, and I…
Paul: Well what power do they really have?
Rich: Well you’ve got a fiduciary duty, as an officer of the company, to take care of its investors. Now you shouldn’t break the law, but you really, you’re doing something here that we, we consider to be the equivalent of a nuclear bomb for Twitter.
Paul: Well what are they worried about?
Rich: Well, if you do this, a couple problems arise. First of all, you just alluded to the fact that we are neutral.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: And we do not inject ourselves into the content —
Paul: Well we are but now we have all these people with millions and millions of followers, and it tests the limits of free speech if they do something harassing, or even vaguely weird. It just becomes a huge debacle on our system.
Paul: So we want to get rid of this thing that’s causing us so much stress, and I think over the next five to ten years that will turn out to be a great business decision.
Rich: Well I don’t know if that’s gonna play out that way. I don’t think it’s gonna play out that way. I think what will happen is it will be incredibly divisive in terms of the perception of Twitter and what Twitter is. Right now, you’re right, we are utility today —
Paul: Well wait a minute, Salesforce —
Rich: And that insulates us from a ton of criticism.
Paul: Salesforce almost bought us. They were thinking about it.
Rich: Yeah, the reason they didn’t buy us is because they saw all the negativity that was happening on the platform.
Paul: Right, so this is a source of that negativity. Let’s get rid of it. Let’s get our value up. Let’s, you know, this could be a $30-billion company the next day.
Rich: Yeah, but I think once you do that, it’s gonna amplify, it’s gonna be very polarizing. You’re gonna have a lot of response, and a ton of negative response, and it’s just gonna be — it’s gonna be chaos. Effectively, you’re stepping into editorial here, once you do this.
Paul: Can you, can you stop me, though? As investor relations?
Rich: Yes. The board can stop you. I will recommend to the board that they remove you.
Paul: If I go ahead and do this?
Rich: Well, before you do it, I’m gonna recommend that the board —
Paul: I’ve got a red button right here. [laughter]
Rich: I know, and it’s freaking me out, honestly.
Paul: I can turn this crap off in five minutes. I can end this whole thing. Right here.
Rich: Stay away from the red button —
Paul: [noise reminiscent of the game Operation]
Rich: For a minute.
Paul: All right. All right. I’ll leave the red button alone.
Rich: I think it’s very hazardous to the financial health of the company if you did that.
Paul: So you’re willing to go into, like, you’re gonna take this to the brink? We’re gonna have this fight.
Paul: If you’re investor relations.
Rich: One more quick thought from an investor perspective: a lot of our promotions, a lot of our clients, really speak to an audience that is very pro-Trump. And so we would lose all that business.
Paul: So we lose Fox News. But I bet Kim Kardashian will be fine with it.
Rich: Well…yeah. Some will be fine and some won’t.
Paul: Kanye West is a Trump fan. OK, so you’re worried that, like, some of our five, ten million follower users might start to freak out about the platform.
Rich: Yes. That. And, but more than that, I think people will view us as a company with a particular position, and will think much more warily about doing business with us a company.
Paul: Because you don’t think this is a universal rejection. You think some people do want to hear this guy.
Rich: Not just that, I think people will be, OK, well what’s Twitter gonna do next?
Paul: OK. If they’ll shut off somebody with 22 million followers on their own platform…
Rich: That’s right. That’s right.
Paul: Then they will do anything…
Rich: They’ll do anything.
Paul: So whatever moral system they follow, the thing that I perceive, the product I use, they can change it in any way.
Paul: Depending on how they feel that day.
Rich: That’s right. And that’s very scary.
Paul: So if I’m an investor, I’m terrified of that decision.
Rich: Very much so.
Paul: It’s hard — OK, I can see that point.
Rich: Somebody else wants to speak to you, by the way.
Paul: Who wants to talk to me now? Design?
Rich: What’s he doing here?
Paul: All right, this is, we’re getting to the end here. We’re starting to wind it down.
Paul: I don’t even know why I would need to talk to design. I mean, I’ve got a red button. We shut it off. We’ve removed people before.
Rich: Do you want to stay the CEO and I’ll be design, or do you want to switch…
Paul: I’ll be design.
Paul: Well no, we’re all design in this room.
Rich: We’re all designers.
Paul: Everyone’s the CEO, but we’re all design.
Paul: All right, so what does design wanna do?
Rich: Twitter is 93% content. There are buttons and some trimmings around it, but the —
Paul: It’s got that little video thing on the bottom left now?
Paul: They’ve got that. That’s great.
Rich: The service is its users, and its users make up the service.
Paul: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: You can’t do this.
Paul: Why? Why couldn’t you do this?
Rich: Because millions of our users wake up every morning looking forward to what @realDonaldTrump tweeted.
Paul: Donald J. Trump, yeah.
Rich: It’s part of the Twitter experience.
Paul: But what about all the people who hate him?
Rich: I sympathize with those people. And they can find a lot of people that they like. That’s kind of the beauty of Twitter. In fact, much of the people that you follow and I follow reinforce a lot of what I love about Twitter. And share a lot of the terrible things and criticize those things. But you can’t, the moment you do that, you’re breaking the pact between this incredible service and its community of users.
Paul: So in practical terms, I turn off this account, the account can no longer post, and all the old tweets suddenly get removed from the database, essentially — like, not really, but you can’t see them. So people who replied to him, whatever, those tweets are gone.
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: The account is gone.
Rich: Right. And if you’re really gonna do this, we need to talk about how we communicated, and how, how we take care of those users that are about to experience something very jarring and very disruptive.
Paul: OK, so what do we do?
Rich: You don’t do it.
Paul: You don’t do it. Because it will just break the platform.
Rich: It will just break the platform.
Paul: What if we left all the old tweets up so the timeline still worked, but didn’t let him tweet anything new.
Rich: The appeal of Twitter is its alive-ness. OK, I mean, archive, fine, but it’s really about what’s next. I mean, that’s part of the reason people open it 20 times a day.
Paul: So from a product perspective, from a design perspective, if we do this, we’re gonna fundamentally alter the experience of the whole platform.
Rich: I believe, I mean, someone this prominent on this platform will do so, even though, again, I, like the PR person, I hate the guy, too, but you’re gonna undermine the credibility of the platform, you’re gonna harm the relationship between the platform and its users. You know, I’m here because I don’t just design buttons and graphics. I, I think a lot about the relationship between this product and the people that use it.
Paul: All right, so is the only thing that could’ve solved this situation is going back in time and saying to Dick Costolo, make these changes?
Rich: I think Dick Costolo’s quote is ridiculous, by the way.
Paul: Why is that — this is you talking as Rich now, yeah.
Rich: I’m Rich now. [laughter]
Paul: I could tell. You could hear the voice change, actually.
Rich: I think it’s a —
Paul: [very passable Rich impersonation] GET THE…GAH…JESUS.
Rich: It’s a, it’s a ridiculous quote because it’s hindsight, right? Twitter’s appeal and its…he’s not mentioning the positive things that Twitter does, and he’s not fully processing that those things that he could he could do to not let it be polluted with negativity would also have stopped those incredibly positive things from happening. I think Twitter is this sort of product of just human communication that is, we don’t even really understand fully yet, and so for him to go back and say, in 2010, oh I want to do this and that and this, it probably would’ve never been what it is today, in terms of its scale, and its influence, and all that. So I think it’s ridiculous.
Paul: So we can’t go back in time, we’re here, we have this account. We do have tremendous harassment problems across the platform.
Rich: It is a problem, and it is a problem they’re trying to attack, but not doing, from what I understand, a very great job of it.
Paul: But what we’re saying here is that even so, you have to separate this account from the larger harassment problems.
Rich: Yes. Well…I think if you, if you’re serious about this, this is a retroactive move. I think that’s the challenge with this. Is that everybody’s kind of losing their minds right now, because we have a knucklehead in the White House — am I allowed?
Paul: Yeah, you can say. We’re going to take that position as a company.
Rich: We’ll take that position as a company. And so it’s very scary, so you feel like, you know what, we’ve gotta pull the emergency switch here.
Paul: This is his loudest megaphone.
Rich: That’s right. That’s right. But in reality, what you, what you have is Twitter really trying to catch up to what’s happening. I think they changed their harassment policy and how they address it a few months ago, if I’m not mistaken.
Paul: Sure, they’ve started hiring and putting some very good people in charge of harassment.
Rich: That’s right. And I think the challenge with that is for someone at this scale, like at this reach, with this much reach, is very tricky, very tricky, because they’re walking a very hard line. Twitter’s weird right now. It’s sort of apocalypse, and then I get a promoted ad to buy a graphics card in the middle of it.
Paul: Right, right, or applesauce.
Rich: It’s lost its shit.
Rich: Can I say shit?
Paul: Yeah, you can. We’re safe.
Rich: So I think it’s really, I don’t think they know the right formula. And I think Twitter needs to just focus on what’s gonna keep it intact rather than say, for policy reasons, we should shut off Donald.
Paul: All right, so we’ve heard from the team. What about the users? Because they have a voice here. They build the platform, they are the content, and they want, a lot of people. Let’s say —
Rich: Do you follow Trump?
Paul: You don’t have to. [laughter]
Rich: Exactly. So as a user, you don’t follow Trump, right? CNBC, if I’m not mistaken, every time he tweets…
Paul: TRUMP TWEETS!
Rich: They, like, hold it up, because the traders and the finance people need to know about it because…
Paul: No, there’s a graphics they fly in —
Paul: It’s like, “NEW TWEET.”
Rich: If the guy’s got, like, acid reflux, we could lose a billion dollars off the market.
Paul: He’s cranky about Boeing that day, or whatever, yeah.
Rich: Exactly, whatever it may be, right? So that’s real, right? So I don’t follow him.
Rich: And you don’t follow him. And he doesn’t get in my way. But he’s gonna make it into the news because the news can’t help itself, right?
Paul: So you’re thinking this whole thing is like a bomb in a, in a spy movie, and if they cut that account, its the wrong wire, everything blows up.
Rich: I’m not in Twitter anymore. I’m not inside Twitter.
Rich: I think they should cut the account, to be, I mean, I’ll speak personally.
Paul: You do? Personally?
Rich: Yeah. Cut the account, right?
Paul: Just end this thing.
Rich: Yeah. I mean, will it end Twitter? I think it may end Twitter.
Rich: If they cut the account. I think they’ll get thousands of lawsuits, I think, the implications will be massive. That’s why I think Twitter won’t do it.
Paul: Ethically and personally, because I agree with you, partly because I love chaos, but partly because it’s like, enough. This is not good for the world.
Paul: To have that kind of amplification.
Paul: We, our culture hasn’t figured out how to metabolize and understand free speech like that.
Rich: Look, I’m not even saying cut the account so the world can be a better place, right? I mean, he’s in a very powerful position. He’ll have other ways to cause chaos.
Paul: He’s still gonna have @POTUS. He’ll have that account. It’s got 14 million followers.
Rich: I’m just, it’s just, you know…I think as a company they can’t do it. I think, I could be persuaded that they shouldn’t do it, because I like Twitter for other reasons, but I say cut — I find, I just find it annoying, like the whole thing…I get more angry at the Washington Post putting so much focus on it, is what freaks me out.
Paul: All right, so hit pause. In this room, show of hands, how many people think: delete the account. …. Very mixed.
Rich: Very interesting.
Paul: Very mixed. Fewer people think delete the account. How many people are like, don’t delete the account. …. Overwhelmingly don’t delete the account.
Rich: Overwhelmingly, and I think that’s a thoughtful, correct answer. I would do it just because, I’m like you, I just want to see the world kind of go insane.
Paul: Yeah, I mean that’s the most exciting thing that could happen.
Paul: It’s also, I feel like —
Rich: I don’t have plans this weekend.
Rich: I want to see the account get deleted.
Paul: I feel we’re getting hit with the stick, and it’s just a stick where you could kind of hit back, and wow, now it’s a real fight.
Paul: It’s like Pacific Rim, like, now you got, like, kaiju monsters and robots just really smashing the crap out of each other. [laughter]
Rich: Right, right. But I think, you know, this highlights something we see all the time in the shop at Postlight, is especially because we deal with clients and deal with the family stuff they’re dealing with inside their companies, how design isn’t just purely about color, typography, and beautiful design. It’s so much, there’s a lot that swirls around it that influences it.
Paul: There’s as much of this conversation — so we used this because of course this is hot, it’s in the public eye, everybody would understand what we’re talking about, but every conversation we have with a client ends up looking like this, it’s us going, there’s this department, there’s this issue, these people want this, and there are conversations like this that happen and happen and happen before you can open a program and draw a rectangle. And so you know —
Rich: And throughout, as you present that user experience, or whatever it may be, you’ll get responses from legal. You’ll get responses from marketing, saying, oh, you’re, it’s a little too much there —
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: Or whatever it may be. So I think, you know, the…
Paul: Sent from my iPad?
Rich: Yeah, and I don’t know, how do you translate that into teaching? That’s hard. I think you just gotta be out there and…
Paul: A little roleplaying, I think having people —
Rich: Roleplaying could be helpful.
Paul: Having people from the industry come in and having people pitch to them and have them tell you why your big idea will actually get smashed.
Paul: Is really helpful. And one of the things I like to talk about in the class at the School of Visual Arts is how ideas, when you actually get into the real territory of the organization, if you want to get your new video player into the homepage of The New York Times, how many people, how many stakeholders are there who already have a vested interest in how it works. And if you start to work those numbers out, like a little video, like a little icon on a given webpage of any significant size, you can easily realize that there are 35, 40 people who will have a very strong opinion about what that rectangle looks like.
Rich: Oh yeah.
Paul: And you can’t make design change unless you’ve played those things through. So we’re sitting here, like the world is saying delete your account to Donald Trump, but this is the conversation that would have to happen over and over and over again.
Paul: Before that could even happen, before that red button could, could happen.
Rich: We’ve had, we’ve had prospects come to us at Postlight and they’ll come to us a) because they think we’re great.
Paul: Yeah. Little marketing. [laughter]
Rich: But b) they’d rather not navigate the project through their organization. They’d rather have it happen outside, and then drop it, and you know, turn it, you know, produce something really impressive and then use that, draft behind that, as the way to navigate politically to get something through.
Paul: Ammunition. Because they can’t get anything built, so they’re like, you build, you build a prototype for us, so that I can use it to scare everybody else. And then we’ll get something built.
Rich: Versus, “Hey Jim, can I speak to you for a minute, I’ve got a really great idea.”
Paul: These are the pathologies of the real world of this work.
Rich: That’s right.
Paul: So I think education has often neglected those pathologies in our discipline, and if there’s a larger argument to take out of this, that’s what we’re pushing.
Rich: I’ve said this quote on the podcast previously: my old law professor used to say it all the time. It’s, “The right thing is easy. Unfortunately people are involved.” [laughter] And especially with, like, when you have a strong feeling. You ever get that feeling as a designer where it’s like, ah, this is so right, and then you’re about to present it, and it’s like someone’s telling you your baby is ugly.
Paul: Oh yeah.
Rich: And it’s a hard thing, and that’s something, just through experience and maturity, you come to understand that not everybody’s gonna, you know, coo and…hug your thing.
Paul: You have to learn to see them coming.
Paul: You’ve gotta know. So look, we’ve talked. We have time for questions if anybody has any questions. Or observations?
Audience Member #1: Hello. Jan Christoph [inaudible] experience. As Hitler came into power, he used the radio and the airplane to his advantage. I think outlawing, at that time, time radio or the airplane would not have addressed it. I think the problem was appeasement. So I think the question for us as designers today: what do we do different, how do we fit in alternative viewpoints — not alternative facts — identify these ones instead, and essentially open a wider range of discussion to actually take away this, yeah, anti-humanistic message which he is actually perpetrating there every day. So I think the question outlawing is the wrong question, is what are the alternatives which we can force then, how do we strengthen these different views?
Paul: It’s a great question. So I think, look, let me try and then you take it. It’s, what I see that’s very complicated with social media and with the way that the internet works, is that there’s a built-in reward for a certain kind of virality and primal human behavior, where anger and rage often, as you saw with a lot of the fake news stuff, lies just travel really, really fast to lots of people, much faster than boring truth travels. And because of the way that internet advertising works, there is an economic advantage to it working that way. The money starts to pour in, and so then you’re suddenly, there’s this real lag, because it’s really hard to stop sources of money from flowing.
Paul: People don’t love it.
Rich: Yeah. I try to be opti — I try to be optimistic about this, in that this is still a new medium. If I’m not mistaken, newspapers when they first started out, there was a lot of muckraking, and very tabloidy, and…
Paul: Well the muckraking was good, but the standard for journalistic truth took decades and almost centuries to emerge.
Rich: Right, and so we’ve got a new medium here that we just don’t know how to cope with. I mean, the other argument is that just fundamentally, humans are garbage.
Paul: Yeah. So you gotta work around that.
Rich: You gotta work around that, let the good stuff rise up.
Paul: I mean, this is tricky. It’d be great to just offer an answer, right, like how could you structure the internet so that this sort of behavior wouldn’t thrive and, and transmitted, you know, content like this wouldn’t transmit itself so quickly and…there’s so, there’s millions of answers and none of them have been proven, so…it’s an awkward and ugly, possibly exciting time to be alive, because nobody knows. Nobody knows how to get, put this back in the box.
Rich: Yeah…you know, if growth is what drives, I mean this company went public because they had significant growth, that was their motive, primary motivator. And if someone had come in and said, look, people are being rude to each other, we need to button this thing down and here is a much stricter set of guidelines that everyone has to adhere, you know, the motivations and the machine that was pushing to continue to grow and to take it public would have just trounced it, right? It just…this is not a public, you know, freely-open public entity that is out there just so we can all talk…it feels that way because it’s free.
Paul: No, but it’s not a government project.
Rich: It’s not a government project. Their job was to make a handful of people a lot of money.
Paul: It looks like the commons, but it’s not the commons.
Rich: Right. So there’s some guy in legal who keeps writing guidelines and nobody listens to him.
Rich: There are good people in legal. Just have to find them. [laughter]
Audience Member #2: Hi, I’m Diana.
Rich: Hi Diana.
Audience Member #2: So you gave us two choices, between deleting the account or keeping the account. And I’m wondering about a third possibility, since Twitter is a platform and we’re all designers, what about designing a mechanism that puts it to the users. And I’m not talking about just simple voting, but let’s face it, I mean, 140 characters, one to many, was an interesting mechanism, and the users figured out what to do with it. What if we give people a way to…you know, I don’t know, model? You know, what the possible outcomes are. I mean…
Paul: I mean, that’s worth pursuing. That is exciting. Do you put a little red check box by people who are saying really bad things?
Rich: You know there’s an old email client I used to use called Eudora [noise of enthusiastic recognition] that would read —
Paul: That’s the biggest applause we got today. [laughter]
Rich: And there was this feature they’d thrown in in a beta that they took out, and what happened was, when you wrote an email, it would scan your email and if you had, like, profanity in it, or whatever, they would score you on hot peppers. And if you had more hot peppers, the email would sit in your, it wouldn’t get sent for a while. So if you had five hot peppers, it wouldn’t get sent for an hour. If you had three hot peppers, it wouldn’t get sent for half an hour. And you gotta wonder if they had, if they paused Trump’s tweet, I get, you gotta imagine that if he wrote it and it didn’t get sent, and it says look, you’re gonna have to come back here in four hours and send it, if a lot of the same stuff would happen.
Paul: I mean, he’s an unusual case, but with many people, probably not.
Rich: With many people, probably not. And —
Paul: There’s a Twitter user —
Rich: Well it’s worth noting that feature failed miserably.
Rich: People were just agitated with it.
Paul: There’s a Twitter user, I can’t remember, I’ll get her name wrong, it’s Andréa López, and she has a, her Twitter handle is @Bluechoochoo, and she rates his tweets, when he tweets, she’ll just quietly put the pill emoji, and she rates things on one to five amphetamines. [laughter] And it’s just this very quiet reaction, it’s not a response or anything, it’s just if you follow her feed, you know that she’s sort of evaluating how hopped up on uppers he is.
Paul: And sort of each tweet gets that read. And she thinks about, like, is this an Android tweet, is this from somewhere else.
Paul: So every now and then there’ll be one that’s like 100, 100 pills, because it’s just a colossal mess.
Rich: Look you know, it’s worth noting again that there are a lot of people who think he’s tweeting really great. That it’s about time someone…
Paul: Someone said this.
Rich: Someone said this, and someone spoke this way. It’s just, I find myself going to other places because my stream is so self-reinforcing.
Rich: To the nth degree, that I just need to see what else is going on out there, to understand it. Yes?
Audience Member #3: Hello. My name is Zan. My question, well, it’s a little bit meta. I wanted to know, or have you talk a little bit about creating falsehoods, you know, and specifically I’m talking about the Bowling Green Massacre story that Kellyanne Conway made up. And I think that by mentioning it, and by repeatedly mentioning it, and the echo chamber that social media, like Facebook and Twitter, provides, that that fiction has now become a fact. There’s actually record of this entity, this thing, that never actually happened. And I’m curious to know what you think is the responsibility of companies like Twitter and Facebook regarding the health of our society by perpetuating these falsehoods?
Paul: You know, from a product perspective, it’s terrible to have everything be lies, like that’s real bad.
Rich: It’s not cool.
Paul: It’s not, it’s just, then people can’t trust anything. We’re in such a weird moment, like my mom lives in rural Maryland, and someone was talking to her and said that the March on Washington, the Women’s March, they were absolutely sure that it had been “500,000 transvestites,” that’s the quote, right? So that was how they saw and perceived that event. So the filter is so intense at that point, the amount of bad information that got in…
Paul: To say those two words, and say that’s, to say that number and that descriptor and assume that’s what the march was like? You’re up against a lot. It’s not just Twitter at that point.
Rich: Yeah, and I go back and forth on this, because we observed it almost as spectators, all the fake news stuff, and all the kind of crazy, you know, the Pope endorses….
Paul: Pope endorses — all the Macedonian teenagers making things up that people wanted to read.
Rich: Right. But from where I’m sitting, and almost everybody that I knew, everybody that I knew wasn’t duped. We saw it was ridiculous, this Bowling Green thing was ridiculous, you know, at what point do we have to just be able to rely on peoples’ ability to look at a piece of information and render a judgment, or go and probe it a little deeper to see if it’s real or not, or is it the job of the communication tool to take care of that for us. It’s a pretty scary thing, if we’re gonna rely on Twitter and Facebook to make sure the thing is true or not.
Paul: They’re utterly unprepared for this task.
Rich: They’re utterly unprepared, and on top of that, I think it’s really important that our citizens do the legwork here, and be in that position where they can determine whether something is real or not. Like, I wasn’t duped. Yeah, this one here.
Audience Member #4: Hello. Yes. My name is Vincent. So I have a question about specific type of tweets that Trump sometimes does. It’s when he calls out somebody’s name very specifically. And maybe his tweet is not the worst part, it’s the army of fanatic people who will tweet death threats, or give somebody’s location or phone number and everything that happens after that. Do you think the platform has any responsibilities to deal with people who will actually, their lives might be affected by the army of extremists who follow Trump? ?
Rich: ??I think the platform is actually, according to them, taken that responsibility. They are shutting off accounts that whip others up into a frenzy, where there are death threats and the like. I think what you have here is a special case. I think if you look at the rationale for other accounts that have been shut off and apply them to him, he should be shut off, right? But I think what you have here is, he’s the president, there’s 24 million followers, and the implications for the business, I think, are you know, giving them pause.
Paul: I mean, I think it just locks everything together. It’s so…
Rich: I think…
Paul: It’s so hard to take this one apart if you’re a business like that.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, Megyn Kelly, the Fox correspondent, was getting death threats.
Paul: Because he was going after her.
Rich: Because he was going after her, and he wasn’t the one making those threats, it was just others following on, right? But I don’t think they’ll do it.
Paul: So should we take one more question and then call it a night?
Audience Member #5: By the way, my name is Kemal Kumru, I come from Holland. And…sometimes I think you need to just enforce it. Just close the platform. Otherwise on which side in history will you be on? Like, if you’re going to, just enforce it. Just close it.
Rich: Close the whole platform?
Audience Member #5: Yeah. Just close it down. Because there are a lot of trolls out there, just like you said, putting other people in a frenzy. You don’t know how it’s gonna spin off. Just like you said, just like stimulating chaos, do you really want that? At some point you just need to enforce it. Just like diversity in a company. There’s a quota, to bring women in, and some, some other people will say, “Well, we’re already friendly towards women, and they’re coming to certain positions,” but there’s still a glass ceiling. Sometimes you just need to enforce it. And like, it’s done. We need to close it. That’s it.
Rich: Who do you think should close it? The government?
Audience Member #5: Well the CEO, and then there will be more Twitter.
Paul: See I love it. This is the one — we didn’t consider this.
Rich: Shut the whole thing down.
Paul: Honestly, what a great way to end this evening. [laughter] That is the one big option that, it’s true. Americans would never suggest that.
Rich: I’d probably talk to my kids more.
Paul: Yeah. Oh, it’d be good for, honestly everybody would be happier.
Paul: We’d all start campfires in our own little houses, it’d be great.
Rich: We’d talk to each other.
Paul: Yeah, and we’d learn to love.
Rich: I’m for it. I don’t think it’s gonna happen, but I’m for it.
Paul: I think that thinking at that scale, and that challenge, to kind of a giant publicly-traded company, is great.
Paul: Like, why not?
Rich: Shut it
Paul: Why not shut the whole damn thing down? So we can cross our fingers. [laughter] And see what happens.
Rich: That’s not a design solution, by the way.
Paul: It depends how it’s done.
Rich: Right, fair enough.
Paul: Yeah. Could have a big party with some really nice invitations. [laughter] Thank you, everyone, so much, for the first-ever live recording of our podcast.
Rich: This was a lot of fun, thank you. [applause] Thank you.
Paul: And so, Rich, I thought that was a good conversation.
Rich: I thought it was excellent, Paul.
Paul: It was great to be both provocative and market our company [laughter] My name is Paul Ford, I’m the co-founder of Postlight, and you’ve been listening to Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight, a digital product studio at 101 Fifth Avenue. Get in touch with us at…
Rich: [email protected].
Paul: And give us five stars on iTunes if you’re so inclined. Thank you so much, and thank you so much to everyone here at the education summit for IxDA17. We appreciate your forbearance and we’re really glad you had us. Thank you.
Rich: Thank you. [applause]