Fake news backlash? Twitter CEO rethinking how platform works, wants to reduce 'echo chambers'

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said he is rethinking core parts of the social media network so that it does not enable the spread of hate speech and disinformation.

In an interview on Wednesday with the Washington Post, Dorsey said his company is testing features that would help promote alternative points of view as a way to combat fake news and reduce “echo chambers.”

“The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product,” Dorsey told the Post. “Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do—and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”

Dorsey, along with other Silicon Valley executives like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has grappled with how to reconcile his company’s mission and free-speech ethos with the increasingly virulent hate speech and fake news that have infiltrated his platform.

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In the face of intense backlash, Zuckerberg announced a wave of changes at Facebook, including a top-to-bottom review of all the apps that utilize the social network and a massive hiring spree to thwart hate speech and misinformation.

In recent weeks, Dorsey has come under fire for saying that conspiracy theorist and Infowars host Alex Jones was not in violation of its policies. Dorsey came under more fire for these comments, which caused him to backtrack. Twitter suspended most of Jones' account activity for a seven-day period after Jones encouraged his followers in a video posted to Twitter to get their “battle rifles” ready against critics in the mainstream media and on the left.

Dorsey said in the Post interview that Twitter has not changed its incentives, which like most social platforms are designed to push interaction and keep users engaged consistently, since it was founded. “We often turn to policy to fix a lot of these issues, but I think that is only treating surface-level symptoms that we are seeing,” he said.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company is open to a range of changes in the platform's structure.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company is open to a range of changes in the platform's structure. (Getty Images)

Twitter is exploring the possibility of surrounding false tweets with factual content, the CEO told the Post. More context about a tweet, including “tweets that call it out as obviously fake,” could help users make their own judgments, Dorsey added.

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The microblogging platform might also one day label all automated accounts, including businesses that use them to send out information about the weather or stocks.

Meanwhile, some users are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to efforts to get Jones off of the platform for good.

This week, the Grab Your Wallet founder Shannon Coulter had a viral Twitter thread suggesting that users could get Jones banned by blocking a list of all the Fortune 500 Twitter handles. She organized the Twitter handles of the Fortune 500, then made them available as a collective block list.

Any user could install the block list with a couple of clicks, and if  they have done so, ads from those companies would not appear in their Twitter timelines. According to her, over 50,000 people installed the tool as of Wednesday.

Twitter has continued to take heat from people on the left who say it enables neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists and those on the right who claim is is biased against them.

Dorsey is one of several technology leaders that will be grilled during a Senate hearing in September on Russian efforts to destabilize U.S. democracy ahead of the midterm elections.