Free speech on the internet, Twitter’s co-founder suggested, might not be such a good idea if it helped put President Donald Trump in the White House.
“It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in [the election],” Evan Williams told the New York Times. “If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”
During a recent commencement address at the University of Nebraska, Williams compared the creation of Twitter to Prometheus, a titan of Greek mythology known for stealing fire from Zeus and offering it to mortals.
“What we tend to forget is that Zeus was so pissed at Prometheus that he chained him to a rock so eagles could peck out his guts for eternity,” Williams told the audience. “Some would say that’s what we deserve for giving the power of tweets to Donald Trump.”
The Twitter co-founder and creator of Blogger told the Times that “the internet is broken.”
“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” he said. “I was wrong about that.”
Williams’ comments come as Facebook has been used to broadcast both suicide and murder and Twitter has increasingly become a hub for trolling and so-called clickbait material with little to no basis in fact. In total, 73 percent of adult internet users have in some way been harassed online, according to the Pew Research Center.
Fellow Twitter co-founder Biz Stone described Williams as “extremely intellectual and introspective.”
“If he could wave a magic wand,” Stone said, “he’d have everyone write the kind of things he likes, like, ‘Here are suggestions on climate change.’”
“The problem is that not everyone is going to be cool, because humans are humans,” Williams said. “There’s a lock on our office door and our homes at night. The internet was started without the expectation that we’d have to do that online.”
Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro rejected Williams’ assertion that the internet is “broken,” writing that his apology regarding Trump highlights “the problem with leftist thought.”
“There were many Americans who were deeply unhappy at Trump’s election. But there were just as many Americans unhappy at President Obama’s election,” Shapiro wrote on The Daily Wire. “Just because many Americans don’t agree with Ev Williams doesn’t make a forum for argument and discussion bad.
“In fact,” he said, “that’s what should make the forum important.”
In 2012, Williams launched Medium, a blogging platform featuring a blend of independent writers and professional publishers, with the goal of sharing more in-depth content.
“Now that we’ve made sharing information virtually effortless, how do we increase depth of understanding, while also creating a level playing field that encourages ideas that come from anywhere?” Williams wrote in Medium’s 2012 manifesto.