In an NYT story over the weekend, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams apologized if the platform he helped create played a part in getting Donald Trump to the White House
It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.
First things first, there’s nothing to be sorry about. Blaming Twitter for Donald Trump is like blaming the ocean for Jaws.
Twitter didn’t create Donald Trump. He was on the rise long before anyone told him to limit his self-aggrandizing statements and wanton lies to a mere hundred and forty characters per shot.
Did Twitter further empower Trump? As a tech investor and enthusiast, I’ve asked myself that question many times over the past few months. And like many people in the internet industry, I wondered whether the network we were so determined to build not only failed to foster the communal good we anticipated; but instead provided a megaphone for the alt right and a slew of other hate groups.
It was naivete that allowed us to believe we were creating a panacea. And it is that same naivete that empowers us to believe what we’ve found in place of that panacea is a monster of our own creation.
Let me put a different twist on what’s happening.
Twitter is providing the lens through which we can see how much of that hate has always been bubbling under the surface.
Politicians have long had the means to spread their messages to potential voters. What Twitter really changed is that those politicians can now almost immediately see which of those messages is resonating with the crowd. And more importantly, the crowd now has a platform to voice their own messaging as well.
Ev gets at this point in the same article:
The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.
It’s a great line, and there’s some truth to it. But it’s vitally important to remember that the world’s roads were lined with car crashes long before anyone got the bright idea to attach an ethernet cable to the back of a computer.
The problem is not that Twitter enabled those who would choose to spread hate speech. The problem is that so many of these people exist in the first place. Twitter didn't create them. It merely allows us to see them. Twitter is no more to responsible for hate than an optometrist is at fault for making visible what was always right in front of your face.