To save Twitter it must become a non-profit
The micro-blogging service Twitter provides an essential public platform for speech, dissent, political organizing and news dissemination around the globe. Unlike the other major social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, Twitter encourages users to share their posts with the world. Everyone on Twitter has an equal stage on the 140 character platform, whether the account holder has 1 follower or 50 million.
It is perhaps because of this openness and its short, accessible format, that Twitter as a publicly traded company has struggled financially. Its travails of stagnant user growth, flat earnings, employee layoffs and desperate platform reengineering loom large in the worlds of tech and the news media.
The tech intelligentsia believes Twitter, once a darling of the Tesla-driving set, is now destined to become a Yahoo-like fossil. Arguably, if Yahoo were to cease to exist tomorrow, only the company’s 10,000 workers would care or perhaps even notice.
Twitter’s existence, however, would be seriously missed. The news media and political class view Twitter as an indispensable tool to feed their insatiable desire to be in the loop on (and a part of) the latest nugget of gossip 24 hours a day.
But Twitter is not just a plaything for the thumb-cramped chattering classes in San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and New York. Instead, Twitter is a truly universal service and has become the modern equivalent of the printing press and local town square rolled into one. From the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter, Twitter was just as instrumental at fomenting political change as Thomas Paine’s pamphlets were for rallying colonists to revolution in 1770s America.
Yes Twitter has more than its fair share of inanity and worse — hate speech and violent radicals. Those facts don’t diminish the social network’s indispensability for the disenfranchised to speak, be heard and learn.
This confluence of Twitter’s economic malaise plus the vital role it plays on the world stage necessitates a move to protect it from the financial schadenfreude that inevitably befalls struggling tech companies.
So how to save Twitter? The solution is surprisingly simple: Twitter must transform itself into a non-profit organization. Only when Twitter is free of the need to relentlessly beat quarterly earnings projections and is shielded from corporate vultures looking to raid what is left of the company’s engineering talent, can this champion of free speech survive.
Released from the shackles of a publically traded company, Twitter could focus its attention solely on their users and not on the divergent need of advertisers and investors.
As a non-profit, Twitter would be able to invest in expanding access into countries and communities that desperately need an uncensored megaphone, but that have been ignored to-date because no meaningful ad revenue could be generated from their Tweets.
There is a clear model for success with this approach: Wikipedia, the web-based encyclopedia that is run on a modest budget as a non-profit and still manages to educate and inform 374 million people each month in 281 different languages.
A similar but slightly less radical approach to save Twitter is for it to become a benefit corporation with a double bottom line of earning money and doing a public good. Seen through this lens, Twitter would be a leader, not a pitiable laggard.
This is akin to what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the civic-minded magnate, did when he purchased the Washington Post not to make money, but to better the state of journalism. The Carnegies built libraries; modern moguls promote learning by purchasing newspapers.
In this scenario, who better to buy out Twitter’s shares and midwife this crucial service’s rebirth other than Jack Dorsey, the company’s founder, CEO and one of its largest shareholders? As a billionaire, Dorsey has the resources to purchase a sizeable chunk of the company’s outstanding shares and then personally lead Twitter down either path to the promised land of stability, unfettered public discourse and long-lasting relevance.
Dorsey created Twitter. He may now be the only one that can save it.
— — — — — — —
Jason Alderman is a corporate communications executive who Tweets at Twitter.com/JBAlderman