Future Tense

Jack Dorsey Could Not Contain His Annoyance at Being Grilled by Congress

Jack Dorsey videoconferencing from a minimalist kitchen
Jack in his habitat. Reuters

Something was up with Jack Dorsey on Thursday, and it wasn’t just the background of his video call. While Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet and Google boss Sundar Pichai testified to Congress from tasteful home-office settings, the Twitter CEO, with his now-usual wild-man beard and nose ring, appeared to be in his kitchen. He had a clock showing the prices of various cryptocurrencies (if you were wondering what that was, which many people were).

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The hourslong hearing, the first with these CEOs since the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack, was intended to interrogate how social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube contribute to radicalization, affect young children, and amplify misinformation. But from the start, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee tried to pin down their witnesses with yes-or-no questions. Unsurprisingly, the CEOs tried not to comply, often trying to explaining at length why a particular matter was complicated until a representative cut them off to ask, again, “yes or no?” This pattern repeated itself over and over again.

Although Dorsey was recognized early on for being the only CEO to answer “yes” to a question about social media’s role in the attack on the Capitol—he said that Twitter did bear some responsibility—there were plenty of questions he strained not to answer directly. Notably, when Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois pressured Dorsey to answer whether Twitter had completed a civil rights audit of Twitter—yes or no—Dorsey instead said, “We’ve chosen a different approach.”

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Representatives quickly grew frustrated. “Let me say this, and I think it’s irritating all of us. And that is, no one seems to know the word yes or the word no,” Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California said. Republican Rep. Billy Long of Missouri also asked, “Do you know the difference between these two words, yes and no?” to which Dorsey deadpanned, “Yes, I know the difference.” And then the CEO of Twitter went on Twitter. The tweet had a single question mark and a poll: yes or no?

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Then, while he faced the online hearing room, Dorsey started liking tweets both relevant and random: mentions of his crypto clock, a picture of a San Francisco intersection, and praise for his ability to tweet while testifying. At the beginning of the hearing, Dorsey had used his opening remarks to discuss Twitter’s idea for a “decentralized open-source protocol” that would purportedly address some of the current problems with social media. When a Twitter user pointed out that it would be “awesome” if members of Congress asked him about this, Dorsey tweeted, “Agreed.”

In the perfect climax to Dorsey’s sly tweeting, Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York busted him for posting while on the digital stand. “Mr. Dorsey, what is winning, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on your Twitter account poll?” Rice asked, raising her eyebrows, before questioning. “Yes,” Dorsey responded coolly. “Hmm, your multitasking skills are quite impressive,” Rice finished. Dorsey kept liking and responding to tweets during the hearing, which went on for nearly six hours. Which of the tasks before him was getting the bulk of Dorsey’s attention? Yes.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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