#StayWoke or Still Snoozing? Optics, Broken Promises, and Twitter

Sweet Jesus, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s #StayWoke Shirt Is Incredibly Embarrassing

A Twitter-branded #StayWoke T-shirt: a truly powerful message from Jack Dorsey, the CEO of a company with a 3 percent black/Latino workforce, one that just appointed a white man as its head of diversity to boot.

Source: Sweet Jesus, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s #StayWoke Shirt Is Incredibly Embarrassing

+Commentary: This is a good article you should read the whole thing. What the writer missed in writing this article is not the previous quotes from MSM about their philosophy but as we’ve noted before here, his very words to the code convention that Jack Dorsey himself framed. Far from the neutrality he adopts in journals that will be read by his shareholders and Wall Street, and with tacit PR approval. Nor his invocation in this very video of that same measured PR-speak. There is no studied or measured tones, no vagaries of any kind. He uses feminism & activism of #BlackLivesMatter as the linchpins in what he wants to do, to express the vitality of the social media platform. Outlining your content in such ways does not speak to a ReCode Confernce with Deray and Jack Dorseyneutrality, but is using language of an activist, of consolidated action. Not simply a reaction. Speaking to a room of overwhelmingly white male attendees, many of whom are identical to the trolls they seek to combat.

More to this than the Optics of a Tshirt

Many in that demographic not only are looking identically like trolls who set up camp in anyone’s mentions who dares to challenge the status quo, but use their platforms to frequently dismiss or demean people.. The marganilized voices who dare to use the same platform to bring both awareness and action are often the unwitting targets of those very same people.

Jack’s origin story, being from St Louis, being on the ground in Ferguson, just ten days after the Ferguson story began with Mike Brown’s death. A visit to his family, to the protests, and how it seemingly opened his eyes. This is quaint, not to be too flip about it, but it adds some gravitas.

Having only met Deray around Christmas in 2014 after another death. Chairman of Twitter then. To his credit Peter Kafka asked how “I’m going to go march…?” went over with the staff. Long email about the “why.”  In his words & to his credit Jack responds with: “It takes time and it takes explaining.” It does, and no one more than the users deserves an answer. In fact he then says immediately after that — “It takes just answering, Why?”

Something that could and should be said about Twitter’s problems as well. That if it wants to benefit, and it most certainly does on some level with its deep association with the movements in Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter, #IamAnEngineer, or even the Arab Spring (which isn’t mentioned by name but vaguely alluded to), and other powerful moments in their ten-year history.

First Step: Name It

Kajieme Powell and  Antonio Martin have names, they are not, nor will or should they ever be just footnotes to an origin story for either Jack Dorsey or Deray McKesson. To do so, to not even be able to invoke their names while you profit off their dead bodies as a company, is unconscionable. Especially given the nature of this conversation which ostensibly included Deray to have the tough conversation about diversity.

If we are concerned less with the optics of his shirt, the jarring cognitive dissonance, of using two unnamed deaths at the hands of cops, to a group who largely didn’t know or don’t care, or won’t ever bother to care, then what relevancy to coding does it have? Will code stop these deaths? Or as Deray invokes of “telling the truth in public” but somehow wants to invite more people to the conversation. At what cost?

Why Periscope Matters

Deray’s beta-testing of Periscope, and how it came to be purchased was an interesting factoid.  Friends, that is how the two describe their relationship. First twenty users to try Periscope, informally, loves everything Twitter, and is a power-user. All Peter Kafka’s summation of Deray, who then interjects that he’d like to see a game added to the platform. Which of course, if you are tech history buff know was the major linchpin for Facebook. It piggybacked off the wave of Farmville’s popularity to grow its user base and become the giant it is now.

At 10 minutes in, Deray leads the conversation about ‘diversity in tech’ and the racial makeup of the country versus what we see in both the boardrooms and hiring practices of Silicon Valley. It is shorter than this paragraph, and closer to a shoulder dust.

Which somehow launches into the dynamic of the feedback and how Deray gives notes. “All in the same DM,” Jack jokes. This is almost what is wrong with Tech as a whole. That if the power-user has the ear of the CEO (for life) and it is not being led, let’s say by a robust UX/UI Design team, who are actually testing it with real users. Then only those with the blue checks & the protections, silo and echo chamber inducing blinders this inherently creates, and will by and large, miss the entirety of the point of. Sitting down one-on-one with “Product Leadership” and weighting that above and beyond what the teams know or should know from a more robust concern towards the average user, and experience.

Deray Jack Dorsey Kafka Recode Twitter Talk

Having been swatted away, on Twitter no less, by Deray himself, for our thoughtful critique. That is a microcosm for everything wrong with Twitter, Deray, and Jack in a very tiny nutshell. That both trolls and thoughtful alike are given the same mute/block tools. That the thinking is such a small pool (not to disparage the hard work of the teams in Product Development) but the leadership.

the safety question_answer Jack DorseyAt the 11 minute mark the term “Social Justice” is invoked and Deray has the duty of asking about safety on the platform of his friend Jack. Kafka interjects, preempting a response, surely as the audience would or could to outline what a threat to safety looks like. Death Threats, police, interrupting a screening of the Black Panther Documentary in Baltimore. What bothered me was the stretch it took for Deray to frame his sentence as “I don’t think Twitter has done a good job of getting that message out publicly.” Optics again?

When Jack states that he knows that Safety is an issue, and that Twitter can do better, his very first suggestion is “Better Controls, first and foremost” being on their list. We’ve outlined the announcement previously, and our considerable recoil at the thought. If you have tools now, that are in place, that are ignored, we aren’t sure “better” tools, a vague a concept at best, will be the answer. Nor is an Orwellian Double-Speak sounding council of Trust & Safety.

Reflections or Non-Diverse Mirrors?

The most galling answer is when Jack says: “Twitter is a reflection of the world,” coming as it does as a response to hurtful things being said, it is not a bad answer per se, but reeks of an egalitarian bro-tastic Silicon Valley mythology of how the world works. It is the most capitalist patriarchal answer possible. It is most definitely not, and in terms of diversity, clearly not a reflection of the world we live in. It actually (in terms of users) over-represents marginal (not just the anachronistic misnomer ‘minority’) voices. Those voices are the majority on Twitter.

Which makes that corporate tech-speak bullshit part of the hagiography and business PR language particularly offensive. Idealism can be separated directly from data twitter storm birdswhich contradicts the over-reflective faux nature, especially in a world that hypes #RIPTwitter with each quarterly earnings call issuing Tech churnalism pieces.

Then, sorry for the lengthy digression there, segues into “Awareness” and “Conversation” — One could easily say that these conversations have been happening, and awareness is there. Which then has him opining (after another apology) that the “tools” need to be simple, intuitive, and straight forward. They might, rip twitterbut the backend, the code, has to be something else, and cannot be left to an algorithm, but requires real live humans. Just as moments needs a human editor, so would creating an experience, that quantified as well as qualified the abuse complaints and process.


So having just pontificated, and collected (via embedded links) all the ways the safety issue presents itself yesterday, as a running commentary to the great Anil Dash piece about where this responsibility truly lies. It is squarely with Jack, his board, and the teams, not just the leadership in Product Development. That if those teams were diverse, not merely part-time observers of Black Twitter or #DemThrones, or feminists, and disability activists but were active members of the communities. This diversity of voices makes the platform such a tremendous place to connect with others. If the programmers were to suffer a small amount or even a large heap of the scorn, contempt, and yes death threats/doxxing that these other voices outside the supposed ‘mainstream’ did, then perhaps they could design user-friendly controls. But not seeing that user controls shifts the onus squarely on the oppressed & badgered is a monumental flaw of thinking, philosophy, and ultimately their humanity.

Jack Dorsey Twitter StayWoke ShirtThat is like asking why Black People haven’t ended white supremacy? Or why feminists haven’t achieved equality yet? Maybe, there wasn’t a button to report it. It is ludicrous in that it is quickly inferred that with these controls comes any measure of power. The trolls have evolved, the climate & culture they fester in has aided it, and already monetized, with #ExposureTrolling being the primary way news outlets, or even brands generate clickbait and traffic. Making this self-reportage as way of identifying a problem rather facile.

At the 21 minute mark the idea of politics and bias comes up, to which Jack replies the platform needs to “lift every voice up” which is a powerful, on-message statement, that is horribly drowned by even the most novice user first experience of Twitter. That it does already as is often short-hand referenced become analogous to the schoolyard or the cafeteria where people use their platforms (often unaware) to drown out the other voices.

“I think we need to hear every extreme…to find the balance”

— @jack 

Yet there are those that use that loophole, abuse it really, to make speaking truth to power a very difficult proposition. A dangerous one, and the rather naive expression of “trust the world will amplify…where appropriate” and then “hear them all, hear every extreme” minimizes that words (or voices) carry tremendous weight. Both to people’s mental health, and their livelihoods. His striving to “find the balance” is no different than the Media’s attempt to appear fair & unbiased. On a platform where everyone has its say, it is too easy to fall into a Tower of Babel conundrum. Making even your most valiant striving reduced to vainglorious self-immolation.

Big Data is not blameless, nor are algorithms inherently good, both these realities along with the people who create and code leave their imprint, biases, and a whole host of other things on them. They are without a doubt flawed human systems being carried out by machines. The systemic biases, racism, misogyny, and a whole host of other -isms is on display daily. There is no way for a platform to be neutral, and hope to foster growth.

Peter Kafka Photo codecon_Jack Dorsey Deray

photo by Peter Kafka

After all, if the SMS origins, coupled with the stagnate growth have left it to be a place where only the strongest voices survive, not the ones that need to be heard, but the dichotomy of a Lord of Flies scenario brought to life. It didn’t create the current election cycle, and is actually a voice against the media made monstrosity, as these jingoistic, xenophobic, homo/transphobic, misogynistic words that deserve space would be a tender thought if it didn’t end in dead bodies in the streets or in the sheets. #SayHerName, say all their names, is not merely a way of memorializing, nor should we all a trivializing of them. It isn’t just a way to grow your user base or address the coding people in this audience to elicit some movie-worthy white savior trope or further white guilt.

Let me be very clear, I think Jack is one of the smartest Tech Moguls out there, and have immense respect for the work Deray has done, and have followed Peter Kafka and read him long before there was social media. This is a great conversation, but to have it titled “Twitter and #BlackLivesMatter” when the  two black deaths referenced couldn’t even be named, is not helping. Both male victims by the way. To make matters worth, we can not, and should not let Jack Dorsey or Deray for that matter straddle both thoughts as if they are not antithetical.

You can’t let everyone have a say, and be a place that uplifts and protects people. That even as a free speech advocate, the unregulated mess that is Twitter right now, is by design, it isn’t a matter of lack of controls, not a few bad apples, or any such self-serving nonsense. It is a clear reflection of the prominence of hate, anti-black, anti-gay, anti-woman, among all the others that flourishes there. Without the protections of a constitution or legal redress, but only T&Cs which you would have to violate in some non-specific way, while also being simultaneously egregious in a way that catches their very discretionary eye.

*waves at Azealia Banks while glaring at Donald Trump’s account*

If Twitter could find it in its once bold heart, they would ban Trump’s account. That would send a message, and perhaps send a lot of his “supporters” elsewhere to whinge. Yet that action alone would set the world aghast, as presumptive presidential nominee & hate-monger using their platform to abuse people, the ones they feign having an interest in would also go a long way to restoring civility. The balance of power would immediately shift. Where could or would he go to spew such bile? It plays a part, just as the traditional media’s bloody hands are all over this debacle.

Allowing him to attack people, and hearing his “extreme views” costs people their lives, ones who are attacked in the street, ones the media also loves to report on, and Twitter is their feifdom, and comment on, but that elides the fact that these words have consequences. Ones apparently only reserved for Azealia Banks.

Do watch the whole video below & leave your comments on it below: