Silicon Valley just got a little less strange. Jack Dorsey, the ragged beard and nose ring CEO of Twitter, has announced his resignation from the social network he co-founded 15 years ago. More than a sea change for his company, it marks the end of his tenure as the strangest person to run a major American tech company.
Silicon Valley is a strange place, but nowhere among its best players will you find a CEO who could so aptly be described as a space caddy. Not Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and certainly not his replacement as CEO Andy Jassy; not Google’s Sundar Pichai, nor Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Brad Smith. Even Netflix boss Reed Hastings can’t do it – despite his bizarre cyber-Maoist management style built around radical transparency and self-criticism.
Of course, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has his eccentricities: the year he challenged himself to kill all the animals he ate (at one point slicing up a goat and serving it to Dorsey for dinner) , for example, or his eternal fixation on Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor. But with classic wealthy men’s hobbies such as wakeboarding and skiing, there isn’t a patch on Dorsey.
The only serious contender is Elon Musk, who once blew up a Tesla car in space as a tribute to the late sci-fi author Iain M Banks and named his child with pop star Grimes X Ã A-12 (before publicly correct her on its meaning). Yet so often Musk’s weird actions feel affected and tried, undertaken with a knowing nod to his fans and seemingly calculated to stir up controversy and gain likes and retweets on the social network Dorsey built.
Dorsey, on the other hand, never seemed to care about her followers on Twitter – or, at times, Twitter itself. What other Big Tech CEO has been fired from his own business for doing too much yoga? Dorsey was kicked off Twitter in 2008 for, among other things, leaving the office around 6 p.m. to relax and take evening classes in fashion and design. âYou can be either a dressmaker or CEO of Twitter, but you can’t be both,â said co-founder Evan Williams. told him.
He never quite gave up on those interests, telling another co-founder just before Twitter’s 2006 launch that he “was going to quit tech and become a fashion designer.” Prior to Twitter, he pursued botanical illustration and massage therapy, only giving up the latter after returning to San Francisco and finding that “everyone is a massage therapist.” He eventually returned to the CEO seat in 2015.
Then there was rapper Azealia Banks’ claim that Dorsey had already sent him a lock of his beard hair so that she could create a magical amulet to protect him from Isis, supposedly in exchange for the promoting his album (he didn’t). “Lots of articles said I put a spell on her, but I didn’t” Banks said in 2018. “We made a spiritual pact … and he let me hang. He will pay for it.” While Dorsey categorically denied this, the fact that it’s plausible speaks volumes about her image.
There was also Dorsey’s mocking, cynical and at times outspoken performance during remote testimony before the U.S. Congress in March, in which he often visibly checked his phone. As lawmakers harangued witnesses with theatrical yes or no questions, he created a blank Twitter poll asking users “yes” or “no” and then responded to a cheeky question from a lawmaker about it by saying ” Yes”.
He later retweeted a tweet from a Big Tech lobbyist criticizing the quality of the questions. In his kitchen in the background, a special “clock” could be seen displaying the real-time exchange rate of Bitcoin against the US dollar.
It would all be futile if Dorsey’s quirk hadn’t filtered into her company. Yet for some of Twitter’s most pivotal years, he seemed to be daydreaming at the helm, telling reporters about his daily routine – ice baths in the morning, fasting until evening, walking over an hour through rainy San Francisco. and hazy – while new features and reforms languished in development.
After all, he ran two companies: not only Twitter but also Square, the payments provider he founded after his dismissal in 2008, which will again be at the center of his concerns.
These were the years when nation states used armies of Twitter bots to manipulate foreign elections; when online extremists played with Twitter’s algorithms to make headlines for their posts; when organized harassment has become a daily reality for many users; when Donald Trump used his knack for controversy to win the presidency and turn Twitter into a megaphone that would later help spark the insurgency on Capitol Hill. Dorsey’s responses seldom seemed to transcend the blue sky in pontificating about free speech and “healthy conversations.”
That all started to change around 2019. Someone seemed to have started a fire under him and the business, resulting in a rapid flow of new features and unusual levels of business transparency. Twitter began posting huge dumps of public data about the disinformation campaigns it discovered and explaining more than other companies, both to reporters and to the public, about its rules and how they were enforced. .
When Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube all banned Donald Trump after the Capitol Riot, Dorsey gave the most candid and detailed explanation. “I do not celebrate and am not proud of our duty to forbid [Trump]”, he said.” A ban is a failure on our part to promote healthy conversation … [It] sets a precedent that I find dangerous … [and] in the long run, it will be destructive to the lofty goal and ideals of the Open Internet. ”
And while Facebook’s internal research into its own issues had to be disclosed to reporters as the “Facebook Files,” Twitter released full details of studies showing its content ranking algorithms were biased towards source material. information on the right and that its photo cropping algorithms were biased against dark skin.
Even the chimeras of Twitter were more dreamlike than most. Many contemporary tech CEOs claim to believe in “openness” and “decentralization” because they grew up in the anarchist hacker culture of the ’90s and 2000s. Most now only lend credence. lip service to these ideas in their statements and actively oppose them through their actions.
But Dorsey, by far the biggest cryptocurrency funder of all Big Tech CEOs, kept talking about creating an open market for Twitter users to build and sell their own. ranking algorithms, or moving Twitter to a new open technology protocol that would free it from centralized control. . These may never happen and could just turn into hot air, though Dorsey’s replacement Parag Agrawal is also a believer.
For many people, this will all be too little, too late, and Dorsey’s main legacy will be the extremism, polarization, and anxious cultural neuroticism that Twitter helped ignite. Yet his flaws and virtues directly reflect the idiosyncrasies of a tech baron who almost became a fashion designer and never stopped talking – and talking, and talking – about his hacking ideals.
Io Dodds is a California-based tech reporter