Dorsey's exit shakes up Twitter future

Jack Dorsey’s announcement Monday that he is exiting Twitter after co-founding the company and serving as its CEO for the last six years is a seismic shift for a social media company at the heart of politics and the news media.

The eccentric CEO’s departure comes as Twitter has set high new goals for user and revenue growth and rolled out a series of new products.

It also takes place as Twitter remains under the microscope for the role it and other social media firms have played in stoking an increasingly divided nation.

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Twitter was the social media forum of choice for President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE, who was only removed from the platform after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters.

Dorsey will be replaced atop Twitter’s hierarchy by former chief technology officer Parag Agrawal, who joined the company in 2011 as a software engineer.

The change in leadership offers an opportunity for Twitter to shift course in any number of ways, but does not necessarily mean that major changes are imminent, according to a number of close observers.

“It's a very big event obviously at a very important company,” Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told The Hill. “I don't think it necessarily indicates that either there's something really bad going on or that the company is going to take a dramatic change in direction.”

Twitter’s stock spiked on initial reports of Dorsey’s departure but lost all of that gain by the end of the day Monday, a sign that the market is split on what the future holds for the platform.

“Investors will consider revisiting the stock,” said Eric Schiffer, chairman of consulting firm Reputation Management, pointing to worries about Dorsey juggling running both Twitter and his online payment processor Square. 

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“But others will view it as a negative because Jack is such a visionary and has been able to certainly grow shareholder value,” he added.

Dorsey faced an attempt to push him out of leadership at Twitter in 2020 by the activist investor Elliott Management reportedly because of his dual CEO roles. 

The firm endorsed Agrawal, as well as Salesforce chief Bret Taylor as new board chairman, in a statement Monday.

Agrawal, who was appointed CTO in 2017, has kept a relatively low profile compared to his predecessor. As a product-focused technologist, according to Syracuse associate professor Jennifer Grygiel, he is less likely to get involved in ideological debates as Dorsey was.

“I think he'll just lean into his comfort zone,” they told The Hill.

The new CEO has already drawn the ire of conservatives.

A handful of right-wing provocateurs baselessly claimed Monday that Dorsey stepping down would lead to censorship of their posts.

The account for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee resurfaced an old tweet of Agrawal’s quoting a segment about stereotypes from the Daily Show.

"Didn’t think it could get much worse than Jack Dorsey,” the account tweeted. “But yikes.”

The platform’s relationship with the right could be a key factor in evaluating Dorsey’s legacy, especially given his ties to figures like “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, who helped organize the Washington rally that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Alexander is among those who has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 panel.

“Twitter has become synonymous with online harassment largely because they've cultivated a user base of right-wing extremists,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

Dorsey was the ultimate decision-maker with how the platform handled Trump’s account as well. Critics argued he let Trump post on Twitter for or too long and without any meaningful restrictions even as the former president spreading misinformation ranging from the election being stolen to the risk of COVID-19 being overblown.

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“He used Facebook and other things for reach afterwards, but it was that real time nature of Twitter that he really truly did weaponize,” Grygiel said. “That was on Jack Dorsey's watch.”

Dorsey’s decision to step down makes him the latest Big Tech founder to hand the reins off, following Amazon’s Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosFree speech, Whole Foods, and the endangered apolitical workplace Space: One important thing that might retain bipartisan focus Virtual realities may solve Fermi's paradox about extraterrestrials MORE, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

“There's a lot of talk about the importance of a company being 'founder-led,'” Dorsey wrote in an email announcing his departure. “Ultimately I believe that's severely limiting and a single point of failure.”

That prediction will now be put to the test at Twitter.