December 20, 2019 / 6:12 PM / a month ago

Breakingviews - Jack Dorsey adds third job as anti-Facebook hero

The shadows of people holding mobile phones are cast onto a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Breakingviews) - Jack Dorsey will add another line to his resume in 2020. The Twitter boss banned political ads and did more than Mark Zuckerberg to prevent the silencing of Hong Kong protesters. Dorsey, who also runs payments firm Square, fared surprisingly well in Washington hearings, too. His style will turn him into the anti-Facebook hero.

Dorsey is an unlikely political darling. He comes across as awkward and soft-spoken. But he has also been more up-front with U.S. lawmakers than his social-media rivals about toxic content and his platform’s confusing terms of use. It’s a contrast with both Zuckerberg’s tin-eared talking points and the technical wonkiness of Sundar Pichai, who now runs Alphabet as well as its biggest business, Google.

Twitter has also been more decisive than rivals about resolving controversies, including political ads. While Facebook and Google’s YouTube are tying themselves in knots over restrictions, Dorsey in October announced Twitter was simply banning political ads altogether. While President Donald Trump’s campaign manager criticized the decision, it hasn’t sparked much blowback from other Republicans and it drew applause from Democrats.

That move followed another politically popular decision on Hong Kong. In August, Twitter decided to stop running ads from state-controlled media entities, including Beijing-backed outlets. Facebook, which generated about $5 billion in revenue from Chinese advertisers in 2018 according to Pivotal Research, has run Xinhua ads about this year’s protests in Hong Kong, while YouTube hosted similar China Global Television Network shows.

Square, meanwhile, has been building its cryptocurrency capabilities without drawing political backlash, whereas Facebook has put its Libra digital-currency project on hold after a global regulatory outcry.

Political pressure on social networks will increase as the November 2020 presidential election approaches. Dorsey may find he has earned a third important job as a thorn in the side of his larger, more compromised rivals.

That’s if he’s even around: After a trip to Africa in November he tweeted that he would spend three to six months living there in 2020. There are opportunities for Square in African markets, but Dorsey’s absence could hurt Twitter if it gets caught in an election firestorm. That said, a move to another continent is one way to get a breather from an interminable, and probably nasty, campaign.

This is a Breakingviews prediction for 2020. To see more of our predictions, click here.

Breakingviews

Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.


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