Is Twitter to blame for the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency? Not entirely, according to Ev Williams, the former CEO of Twitter (TWTR), who reckons the wider media is more responsible.
In an interview with the BBC’s Radio 4, Williams said it was “not Donald Trump using Twitter, period, that got him elected, even if he says so.”
Trump, who has enthusiastically used Twitter to connect directly with the public for years, has indeed claimed that the platform was responsible for getting him into the Oval Office. And Williams, in a May interview, has already apologized for the company’s role in Trump’s election “if it’s true.”
However, the Twitter co-founder said Wednesday that Twitter’s role paled alongside that of a broader modern media ecosystem that “is supported [by] and thrives on attention.” This, he warned, is “making us all dumber, not smarter, and Donald Trump is a symptom of that.”
“It’s the quality of the information we consume that is reinforcing dangerous beliefs and isolating people and limiting people’s openmindedness and respect for truth,” Williams said. “I don’t think Twitter is at all the worst case of this. It’s the ad-driven media that churns stuff out on a minute-by-minute basis, and their only measure is if someone clicks on it, because that’s the only way they make money.”
“And therefore quoting Trump’s tweets, or quoting the latest stupidest thing that any political candidate or anyone else says, is an effective way to exploit people’s base instincts, and that is dumbing the entire world down,” he added.
Williams is these days focused on is Medium self-publishing platform. Following layoffs earlier this year, the company said it was trying to build an alternative to the traditional, ad-supported online media model. It recently started experimenting with new ways to get subscribers to pay to read articles on the platform.