Nov 30, 2021 - Technology

For CEOs, social media has lost its fun

Photo illustration of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey surrounded by Twitter icons

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

CEO Jack Dorsey's departure from Twitter shows that, in Silicon Valley today, social media is becoming a field to flee.

Why it matters: Coming on the heels of Facebook's name change and new metaverse focus, Dorsey's resignation is another sign that the industry now views the massive social networks it built over the last two decades as buggy "legacy applications" mired in annoying social problems.

  • Tech's most ambitious and restless founders, investors and engineers have always preferred building something new from scratch to fixing existing products.

Driving the news: Dorsey, who first scribbled the idea for Twitter on a legal pad two decades ago, announced Monday morning he was stepping down as CEO and departing the company he has led since 2015.

  • The move comes weeks after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's announcement that he was changing his company's name to Meta and refocusing its future efforts around virtual reality, augmented reality and the creation of a 3D digital dimension for work and play.
  • Boardroom conflict with activist investors may also have pushed Dorsey toward the exits. But it was clear — in everything from his public tweets to his interactions inside the company, as reported by employees — that the CEO was ambivalent about his job, too.

The big picture: Recent years have seen social media's public trust plummet in the U.S. as users blame the companies for polarizing national politics, abusing personal information and letting hate speech run rampant. The CEO's job has grown increasingly political.

  • Executives are regularly hauled before Congress to answer lawmakers' questions and listen to their harangues — a process that Dorsey, even more than his peers, seemed to view as a ridiculous imposition.
  • Dorsey's decision to ban Donald Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot robbed the former president of a megaphone he still misses. The right cried censorship and the left blamed Dorsey for not acting sooner.

Rather than messing around in the can't-win world of politics, most tech CEOs would rather be dreaming up new platform ideas and leading teams of developers building them.

  • Running a social media company lost its appeal once it became a job of intractable dilemmas — balancing free speech and misinformation, privacy and interoperability, openness and user safety, and more.

Industry observers expect that in his post-Twitter career, Dorsey — who has also been CEO of Square, the online payments company, the whole time he ran Twitter — will pursue his passion for Bitcoin, crypto and the whole web3/blockchain movement.

  • His successor as Twitter CEO, current CTO Parag Agrawal, now leads the company's Bluesky project — an effort to rebuild social media around open blockchain protocols.

Yes, but: Facebook has 3 billion customers, and Twitter is still the closest thing to a public square left on today's internet.

  • TikTok is growing fast. Messaging still has room to grow. People will always need to connect somehow.
  • The big social media platforms aren't going anywhere — but they may need a new kind of leader.

Go deeper: Tech founders have left the building

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