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Can a Twitter insider turn around its fortunes?

November 30, 2021, 7:01 PM UTC

In tapping Parag Agrawal to lead Twitter through its economic, technological, and political doldrums, Twitter’s board is hoping an experienced insider with deep ties to co-founder and outgoing CEO Jack Dorsey can reinvigorate the company.

So far, there’s measured optimism that the 10-year Twitter veteran can make it happen.

While Dorsey has drawn criticism for being a part-time CEO with fleeting interest in corners of the Twitter empire, former co-workers and mentors described Agrawal as a pragmatic, detailed engineer interested in proactively moving the company forward. Notably, Agrawal has served as Dorsey’s top lieutenant on several of Twitter’s newest advances, including a social media decentralization project and forays into the application of blockchain.

“Mr. Agrawal’s emphasis on product development appealed to insiders who believed Twitter had moved too slowly to introduce new products, a person familiar with the succession process said,” The New York Times reported. “His appointment could also help Twitter mirror the success of other companies that have tapped engineering leaders to oversee turnaround efforts, they said.”

But Agrawal, Twitter’s chief technology officer for the past four years, will face a tricky balance in proving that he’s ready to move past the Dorsey era.

In announcing his resignation, Dorsey hailed Agrawal as “behind every critical decision that helped turn this company around.” Several news stories described Agrawal as a close confidant of Dorsey, sharing a similarly measured approach to business and technology.

Yet Twitter has undoubtedly stagnated during Dorsey’s second stint as Twitter CEO, which spanned six years. 

While competitors such as Facebook and Snapchat turned to acquisitions and cutting-edge product development, doubling or tripling their stock prices in the past half-decade, Twitter’s lack of game-changing product development and modest user growth has frustrated some investors. Notably, activist hedge fund Elliott Management, which pushed for Dorsey’s ouster before backing off in early 2020, issued a lukewarm statement Monday lacking any lavish praise of the departing CEO.

In Agrawal, Twitter certainly has a forward-thinking leader willing to push into cutting-edge technology. 

For the past two years, Agrawal has overseen Twitter’s role in a project aimed at giving users more control over their social media experience, reducing the power of tech companies’ algorithms. He’s also known as a proponent of embracing the use of cryptocurrencies on the platform.

Whether that technical intuition leads to more regular users and revenue—the ultimate determinant of Agrawal’s success or failure as a CEO—remains to be seen. As The Wall Street Journal columnist Laura Forman noted, Twitter faces existential business questions that Dorsey alone didn’t solve.

“The very nature of Twitter as a text and conversation medium may make it inherently more limited than image and video sharing networks,” Forman wrote. “The question now becomes whether, even with a new true North, Twitter can really fly.”

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Feds prime Amazon for investigation. The Federal Trade Commission on Monday ordered Amazon and several other large retailers to hand over extensive information about their response to supply-chain problems as part of a federal study of the issue, Reuters reported. In issuing the order, FTC officials are exercising their power to conduct studies impacting commerce that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose. The mandates come as numerous sectors of the American economy struggle with supply issues, contributing to the nation’s highest rate of inflation in 30 years. Amazon has not publicly commented on the FTC order. 

Amazon busted for union interference. Federal officials ordered Monday a new unionization vote at a closely-watched Amazon warehouse in Alabama, where employees had decisively rejected a labor drive in April—marking a victory for the e-commerce giant, The New York Times reported. Amazon officials took improper actions, such as installing a ballot box in the warehouse, that led to an unfair vote under federal rules, the director of a National Labor Relations Board regional office concluded. About 71% of employees who voted in the earlier election opposed unionization, a blow to labor organizers trying to start the first union at an Amazon warehouse. Amazon officials disputed the labor board’s conclusions, arguing in part that its actions helped improve access to voting.

Twitter beefs up privacy rules. Twitter announced Tuesday that it will start removing certain photos and videos of private individuals upon request as part of its updated safety policies, TechCrunch reported. Individuals depicted on Twitter without their consent can now ask the company to take down photos and videos, with limited exceptions. Twitter will not remove media featuring public officials or images that are “shared in the public interest or add value to the public discourse.” There is no evidence to suggest the policy change is linked to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s resignation Monday.

Holmes takes aim at ex-partner. Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, testifying at her fraud trial Tuesday, cast her former romantic and business partner, Sunny Balwani, as an abusive figure who controlled her during the company’s rise and fall, the Associated Press reported. Holmes spent her fourth day on the stand detailing allegations of emotional, physical and verbal abuse by Balwani, who served as Theranos’ chief operating officer for seven years. Holmes’ account conflicted with testimony from co-workers and acquaintances, who saw Balwani deferring to Holmes on numerous occasions. Prosecutors are expected to begin cross-examination Tuesday as they pursue 11 counts of fraud against Holmes, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The New Yorker goes long on Lina. First-year Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan gets the New Yorker treatment this month, as the magazine takes a deep dive into her background and plans for taking on Very-Big Business. Khan, in an interview, outlines the tools she plans to use to foster greater competition and reduce the power of merger-hungry conglomerates—much to the dismay of Chamber of Commerce types. Outside observers, however, caution that the fate of Khan’s agenda could rest largely in the hands of the courts, which haven’t been as keen on reining in tech, retail and telecom giants.

From the article:

After years spent publishing research about how a more just world could be achieved through a sweeping reimagining of anti-monopoly laws, Khan now has a much more difficult task: testing her theories—in an arena of lobbyists, partisan division, and the federal court system—as one of the most powerful regulators of American business. 

“There’s no doubt that the latitude one has as a scholar, critiquing certain approaches, is very different from being in the position of actually executing,” Khan told me. But she added that she intends to steer the agency to choose consequential cases, with less emphasis on the outcomes, and to generally be more proactive. 

“Even in cases where you’re not going to have a slam-dunk theory or a slam-dunk case, or there’s risk involved, what do you do?” she said. “Do you turn away? Or do you think that these are moments when we need to stand strong and move forward? I think for those types of questions we’re certainly at a moment where we take the latter path.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Elon Musk is the master of the markets. But how long will Tesla and the meme stocks rule?, by Beth Kowitt

Jack Dorsey blasts other Silicon Valley founder-leaders for choosing ‘ego’ over their companies, by Felicia Hou

India celebrates Twitter’s new Mumbai-born CEO Parag Agrawal as testament to its technological prowess, by Biman Mukherji

Facebook parent hit by first antitrust breakup order as regulators tell it to sell off Giphy, by David Meyer

Elon Musk warns SpaceX could face ‘genuine risk of bankruptcy’, by Chris Morris

Why the Shiba Inu crypto is up 27% today, by Chris Morris

BEFORE YOU GO

No gooooooooooallllll. The 2022 FIFA World Cup will arrive with enough baggage, what with the highly suspicious selection of host nation Qatar and human-rights abuses behind stadium construction. But it could get even crazier. The BBC reports that FIFA is exploring the use of new limb-detecting technology to determine whether players are offsides ahead of a goal. (If you don’t know the offsides rule, don’t worry. Neither does Ted Lasso.) What could possibly go wrong with a sporting association with a checkered track record instituting new, highly technical protocols during the globe’s most-watched athletic event?

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