Le Tweet, C'est Moi

What happens when the CEO is the company

On Friday, hackers took over Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey's account and tweeted racial slurs for about fifteen minutes until Twitter finally shut them down. The cause was SIM-swapping, which happens when hackers convince mobile carriers to port an existing phone number to a new physical phone.

In theory, this can happen to anyone very easily:

The hackers got in through Twitter’s text-to-tweet service, operated by the acquired service Cloudhopper. Using Cloudhopper, Twitter users can post tweets by texting messages to a shortcode number, usually 40404. It’s a useful trick for SimplePhones or if you just don’t have access to the Twitter app.

It’s not a new technique, although it’s more often used to steal Bitcoin or high-value Instagram handles. Often, it’s as simple as plugging in a leaked password.

Jack supposedly had been warned by Twitter’s security team about potential issues, but continued to use Twitter on his phone without taking the proper level of precautions that a CEO of a major social platform should:

A former Twitter employee, who spoke to BuzzFeed News under the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, called the incident "extra brutal" for the company given that it appears it was attacked using its own product, Cloudhopper. That person recalled that Twitter acquired Cloudhopper in 2010 because of ballooning SMS costs.

It's also a black eye for Dorsey, who has shunned efforts to better secure him and his devices, according to the source. The person recalled that Dorsey, who prefers to do the majority of his work from his iPhone, rejected a more secure laptop to work from by Twitter's security team. Part of the reason, the person said, was that Twitter's CEO did not like to carry items with him during his long walks.

Jack might not be so great at security, but he is fantastic at taking walks.

In fact, lately, Jack’s physical fitness regimen seems to be all I’m reading about. What else? Jack also loves to talk about his meditation schedule, intermittent fasting, and SaunaSpace. He also uses something called an Oura Ring to track his sleep, and he drinks “salt juice” (water, Himalayan salt, and lemon - I guess he’s working on self-actualizing into becoming a conductor of electricity?)

He also recently went on a silent retreat in Myanmar. This is one of my favorite recent tech events hat was not made up by Silicon Valley writers:

I know what Jack Dorsey drinks, eats, how he walks, tans, and tracks his sleep. What I don’t know is what he actually thinks about the mess that’s happening on his platform:

When asked about criticism for maintaining most of the posts by Mr. Jones, Mr. Dorsey was philosophical. He had been talking for some time about whether Mr. Jones’s posts violated rules before the blowup over his account in the past week. Still, he emphasized that Twitter would not let public opinion influence its decisions.

He said the company is thinking about other values it needs to adopt.

As for what those values actually are? Mr. Dorsey said the specific plans are still in the works.

What I think when I read these articles is, how is this man still the head of Twitter? Why hasn’t he been replaced yet?

Doesn’t anyone care that he’s been checked out (maybe as early as 2013):

Dorsey now spends most of his time working at Square, which launched in 2010. Soon after Twitter was founded, Dorsey became its C.E.O., but in 2008 he lost that position after complaints piled up that the former coder had become a distracted manager. In 2011, he returned to Twitter, in a lesser executive position, and began dividing his time evenly between Square and Twitter. But the pace was exhausting, and he alienated some Twitter employees. He now comes in to the Twitter offices only once a week. No one at Twitter reports to him directly anymore, and he is left to think about how to make Twitter a better product. He also attends board meetings.

And the answer is, no, for two reasons.

One, Twitter’s share price has recently recovered and is going up (the graph’s x-axis is horrendously small, but that’s since 2014):

And, despite what the Business Roundtable will have you think, share price is still king among publicly-held companies.

And second, Jack owns quite a bit of Twitter, and he sits on the board. As of 2017, he owns 16.6 million shares, just a bit less than Evan Williams, formerly of Twitter, now of Medium fame. That’s about 2% of the company. Not insignificant. For all intents and purposes, Jack is the company, and he can do whatever he feels like doing - going on retreats, tweeting about Square, and RTing of articles about global warming and healthy food.

Literally anything except becoming an active CEO that looks like he cares about the problems that his platform is causing. As I’ve written before, Twitter cares about selling more ads, and anything, including site redesigns, that allow it to sell more ads, is good. As long as the stock price is going up, and ads are selling, it doesn’t matter.

This is the same reason that nothing’s really going to happen to Zuck in the short-term, either, no matter how many Congressional testimonies he has to give. Given how much stock he has, he has 53% voting rights. For all intents and purposes, he is, also, the company.

So, what’s the bottom line here? Can we discipline Jack into caring? Is it possible to turn Twitter around?

There seem to be a couple of options. One is to find something so fundamentally egregious going on at Twitter that he’s forced to resign, ala Travis Kalanick. Another is to pressure the board.

For ordinary people having to deal with the worst of Twitter, both are moon shots.

In the meantime, I guess we can keep @jack-ing, to see if he - the real he, not his hacked account - eventually reads his notifications.

Art: Alexandre Benois, The King, 1906

What I’m reading lately:

  1. Quite the controversy over scikit-learn recently..I’ve been following:

  2. British people of Reddit, how is the American Revolution taught in your schools?”

  3. New OReilly pub, “The Care and Feeding of Data Scientists” (pdf)

  4. Still have this bookmarked and haven’t read it - Ben Thompson on privacy fundamentalism

About the Author and Newsletter

I’m a data scientist in Philadelphia. This newsletter is about tech and everything around tech. Most of my free time is spent kid-wrangling, reading, and writing bad tweets. I also have longer opinions on things. Find out more here or follow me on Twitter.

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