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Twitter’s CEO Says It’s Having an ‘Arab Spring’ Moment in the U.S.

February 16, 2017, 3:13 AM UTC
Thurgood Marshall College Fund 28th Annual Awards Gala
CEO of Twitter and Square Jack Dorsey accepts the award for CEO of the Year onstage during the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 28th Annual Awards Gala at Washington Hilton on November 21, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund)
Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Twitter has taken on a new intensity at the center of America’s political life—an intensity that’s only grown since President Donald Trump began using it as a daily megaphone for insults and arguments.

Twitter’s (TWTR) growing influence in the media is shocking or unsettling for some, but not for its chief executive Jack Dorsey, who recalls seeing a similar phenomenon play out in other countries.

“A lot of the same patterns we’ve seen during the Iranian Green Revolution and the Arab Spring,” Dorsey said on Wednesday in San Francisco at a technology conference hosted by Goldman Sachs. “It was stunning to see how Twitter was being used to have a conversation about the government, with the government.”

Dorsey, clad in a black T-shirt amidst a roomful of bankers, described the first time he felt a shift in how Americans used Twitter: during the series of racial protests in Ferguson, Missouri that began in 2014.

“As a culture in the U.S., we’ve focused on things that didn’t matter as much. Now, everything is brought into perspective, and Twitter is at center of the most important conversations,” he said.

Dorsey also challenged the notion that the recent barrage of political activity is a source of fatigue for users, arguing that younger users don’t see it this way, as they welcome the opportunity to participate in the country’s broader conversations.

But while Twitter’s influence in the media is greater than ever, the company is still struggling to translate this into a viable business model. The company recently posted a brutal earnings quarter, and unlike competitors like Facebook (FB) or Snapchat, its user growth is stagnant.

Twitter’s stock did get a small bump this week, on Dorsey’s announcement that he had bought $7 million worth of the company’s shares.

The Grammys and Sports to the Rescue?

“Our greatest superpower is we break news faster than anyone on the planet,” said Dorsey, adding that a new focus on relevance and fewer products will lead to improved performance in 2017.

It’s unclear, however, how being at the center of breaking news—a role that Twitter has long played—will bring about a dramatic financial turnaround or more Twitter users.

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In response to questions from Goldman Sachs (GS) managing director Heath Terry, Twitter’s CFO Anthony Noto talked up the company’s forays into live broadcasting, which has included NFL games and political events.

As examples of the company’s TV prowess, Noto touted metrics like the adjusted profit margins of 30% for a recent football game, and the 5.1 million unique visitors Twitter attracted during the Grammys last weekend.

He also said Twitter intends to double its broadcasting efforts during 2017, in part by adding more shows in Japan and the U.K. The CFO predicted that advertisers would take notice of improvements in the value of Twitter’s ads, but he said it could be anywhere from 6 to 12 months until the company would start reaping benefits.

Twitter would look for more options to make more money from its data, Noto said, which offers opportunities for high profit margins. He also suggested it might not roll out an enterprise version of its popular TweetDeck service, which is used by many consumers to track the impact of their activity on Twitter.