At Hatcher+, one of the many metrics we track is Twitter usage — and over the past year, we’ve seen usage fall — across the board. New startup, recently IPO’d public company, it doesn’t matter — Twitter itself is being “ratioed”, and the need for a fix is urgent.
The good news is: there’s still a lot of goodwill. I think many of us that lived with Twitter over the past 15 years would love to see the platform come back to life. It’s still got amazing potential to connect and inform. (We’d also love to see Jack Dorsey — the creator — get some of the shares he was forced to give up back. Elon, you have the power to right this wrong.)
So what’s the solution? How does Twitter remove itself from the clutches of the bots and the embraces of the trolls and pull itself out of freefall?
On his recent four-hour podcast with Lex Fridman, the billionaire founder of MicroStrategy, Michael Saylor, suggested a solution that Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, could implement immediately — divide the user group into three groups: authenticated, bonded, and anonymous.
Authenticated, or “blue check” Twitter users currently exist, and number in the hundreds of thousands, and, according to Saylor, the process of becoming a Blue Check user is typically undertaken only by institutions and a small number of elite influencers, and takes several months. Right now, Twitter comprises only these entities and non-authenticated users.
Saylor’s suggestion — that Twitter should add a third tier of bonded “orange check” users — adds a new level of authentication, and deals with the twin problems of abuse and inauthentic behavior in a very different way.
One possible implementation:
User “Alice” fills out a form and deposits $20, presumably using a credit card, combined with a payment processor or merchant basic ID check. This is not a subscription fee, but a downpayment on her acceptance of a “user behavior” or universal ethics policy. Authentication is immediate: Orange Checks are linked to a form of authentication, and abuse should be in theory linked to the number of available credit cards a user has.
As an Orange Check user, Alice is allowed entry into Orange or Blue-only groups that only accept Blue or Orange users, and is permitted to engage in discourse with them. There may even be additional privileges, such as the ability to DM group leaders, which could include thought-leaders and billionaires such as Saylor, or large-scale influencers such as Fridman.
However, Alice is now no longer anonymous — she is part of a community, and the community has rules concerning ethics and behavior. If Alice is accepted but later diverges from the stated rules of the group, the community’s policy may be that she must lose her deposit, or a fraction thereof, for any minor infraction (sensible groups would send this straight to a charity of the group’s choice) — a full-scale infringement would see her potentially lose the deposit and become suspended for a longer time, or permanently excluded from the group.
[IMHO, permanent loss of access should only be reserved for folks who demonstrate an inability to abide by basic principles. Suspension should always be the de rigueur response of any media outlet to a violation of rules, and not the current MO of permanent exile.]
Unauthenticated users — including bots and anonymous trolls — would of course continue to tweet and circulate on Twitter like the bottom feeders they are, but “blocking” would no longer be the default behavior for an unknown user — “group acceptance” and “earned trust” would replace it.
Presumably, Twitter would keep score on such exclusions — and after “x” number of exclusions, suspend Orange status automatically — which would help signal an end to the excessive trollish (is that a word?) behavior that so many of us are so sick of.
And as a result, new behaviors will emerge. The algorithms for governing them will need time to develop — but having three tiers, rather than one very small elite tier and a vast cloud of potential unknowns — can only improve things. It should allow more flexibility and enable better discourse.
Disclaimer: None of these thoughts are my own — and I may be misrepresenting some of what I heard Michael Saylor say during the four hours I listened to his terrific conversation with the amazing Lex Fridman at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mC43pZkpTec. My only aim here is to better publicize something that was discussed very briefly 3 hours and 13 minutes into this discussion.