New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen recently sat down with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for a wide-ranging interview which was published on Recode.
Near the beginning of the hour-long interview, Rosen asked the following question: “Why did you go public with this generalization that people in Twitter are generally liberal or lean left, and that’s our culture, which I have no trouble believing is true, but why did you start talking about that?”
I think it’s more and more important to at least clarify what our own bias leans towards, and just express it. I’d rather know what someone biases to rather than try to interpret through their actions. So, if we can say that, and also have the freedom to evolve and change, then at least people know it, and I think it allows us to remove that a little bit more from the work, but it has to be proven out in our actions as well, so … I mean, we have a lot of conservative-leaning folks in the company as well, and to be honest, they don’t feel safe to express their opinions at the company.
They do feel silenced by just the general swirl of what they perceive to be the broader percentage of leanings within the company, and I don’t think that’s fair or right. We should make sure that everyone feels safe to express themselves within the company, no matter where they come from and what their background is. I mean, my dad was a Republican. When I was growing up, was on the radio all the time with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, so my mom was on the opposite end of the spectrum and …
Yeah, and I appreciate that, and I always felt safe to challenge both of them, especially my dad, and so it was definitely a privilege, but if we’re creating a culture that doesn’t enable people or empower people to speak up or not, we’re gonna be able to do that for our service.
Dorsey’s response prompted Rosen to ask the Twitter CEO if he ever feels like his conservative employees need a courage boost:
… public life and participating in public debate involves risk. The most basic risk is that someone will criticize you, and do you ever feel like saying to your conservative employees, “Look. Speak up. You might get criticized, but you have to have the courage to do that. We’re not gonna penalize you, but you are, to some degree, when you speak up in public or in a public culture of a company, you are, yes, vulnerable to criticism, vulnerable to reaction. That’s part of public life. That’s part of being a mature citizen?” Do you ever say that back to them?
Dorsey replied by noting that such a thing is “easier said than done,” adding that “speaking up in a collection of 3,000 people where you make an assumption that they potentially think differently than you or believe differently is hard. It does require sacrificing a lot of your ego and your intellect in being vulnerable for a minute.”
I definitely encourage speaking up and having the courage to do so, but one has to feel it maybe in a different context before they get more of that, and I think it just takes time. But we have people who will be courageous and speak up, but I don’t know. It’s hard to do as any individual.
It’s easy to take Dorsey’s responses at face value — a CEO seemingly admitting that bias within his company is making it difficult for those in the ideological minority to speak out. His statements, however, are embedded with language that softens his answers, and even places the onus on conservatives at Twitter to have the “courage” to make their voices heard.
It must be noted that Dorsey didn’t provide the above answers unprompted. Rosen laid out a scenario in which conservatives, whose beliefs may fall outside the company’s ideological mainstream, must have “courage” in the face of criticism. In Rosen’s scenario, the ideological majority, which has created an environment in which the ideological minority feels justifiably uncomfortable, bears no responsibility in terms of fixing the problem. In other words, it’s up to conservatives to run toward the fire, while progressives, who ignited and maintain the fire, sit back and roast marshmallows.
The issue, of course, as was demonstrated with Google’s James Damore, is that individuals within these progressive-leaning tech giants who do speak out are at risk of being ostracized or fired.
It appears that Rosen has his perspective set. Dorsey, though providing an unsatisfactory answer, does at least appear to be willing to listen to the concerns that have been made known to him.