There was a revealing “town hall” meeting of Twitter employees this week where they joined executives in open panic over what life would be like without their ability to censor others. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal attempted to calm the obvious angst that (perish the thought) free speech could return to Twitter.
As clearly distressed employees peppered him with questions, Agrawal admitted “Yes, we could have done things differently and better. I could have done things differently. I think about that a lot.” For civil libertarians, the vague admission left us cold. Agrawal spent his entire time as CEO as someone who dismissed or marginalized the very relevance of free speech values to the company.
Agrawal was asked early in his time as CEO how Twitter would balance its efforts to combat misinformation with wanting to “protect free speech as a core value” and to respect the First Amendment. He responded dismissively that the company is “not to be bound by the First Amendment” and will regulate content as “reflective of things that we believe lead to a healthier public conversation.” Agrawal said the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech” because “speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.”
What was striking was the attitude of employees that the actual owners of the company were out of line in seeking a return to a free speech corporate philosophy. Twitter has underperformed for years because it made its name synonymous with censorship. In the meeting, one employee declared “I’m tired of hearing about shareholder value and fiduciary duty. What are your honest thoughts about the very high likelihood that many employees will not have jobs after the deal closes?”
Another employee declared “The PR speak is not landing. They told us don’t leak and do a job you are proud of, but there is no clear incentive for employees to do this.”
There is an incentive, of course. It is called employment . . . even if you do not view restoring free speech to be a noble purpose.
By the way, Twitter employees were not the only ones having a meltdown. Over at Apple, an open letter addressed to company leadership objected that telling employees to return to work in-person was furthering white dominance and privilege at the company. The company had suggested a hybrid approach requiring workers to simply come in three days a week. That was met with outrage:
“Apple will likely always find people willing to work here, but … being in the office at least 3 fixed days of the week … will make Apple younger, whiter, more male-dominated, more neuro-normative, more able-bodied, in short, it will lead to privileges deciding who can work for Apple, not who’d be the best fit.”
That is not likely to amount to a viable EEOC complaint even in the Biden Administration. If anything, the Apple policy is more accommodating than it is required to be. It could legally demand a simple return to work in accordance with the new CDC guidelines.