RANCHOS PALOS VERDES, California As Ferguson, Missouri was erupting in protest in 2014, two men with little seemingly in common were drawn to the St. Louis suburb to see the action for themselves. It was Twitter that would later bring them together.
One man was Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey and the other was nascent and soon to be leading activist DeRay Mckesson.
A St. Louis native, Dorsey explained at the Code Conference Wednesday that he went there with his family (who still lives in the city) to see what was going on, to stand on the street and listen to people, and to clean up trash from the protests.
“I saw a side of St. Louis I kind of felt when I was growing up, but never really acknowledged in its full manifestation,” Dorsey said.
At the same time, Mckesson was watching the protests unfold on TV and in his Twitter feed and noticed “a dissonance” between the coverage. So he drove nine hours from Minneapolisto see for himself. Within a few hours of arriving, he was tear-gassed.
Dorsey and Mckesson did not find each other immediately.
“Honestly, nobody knew who [Dorsey] was. I said ‘I think its that Twitter guy,'” recalled Mckesson. So he took Dorsey’s picture and tweeted it. Dorsey noticed and started following him.
Dorsey noted how activists like Antonio French, a city alderman in St. Louis, were using Twitter and Vine to share what was happening on the ground in Ferguson.
McKesson, however, said six second videos weren’t enough. “I was really happy when Periscope came out. We were really happy when they bought it.” Through his connection with Dorsey, Mckesson became one of the product’s first 20 beta testers.
Ferguson propelled Mckesson into the spotlight and also created a friendship between him and Dorsey that endures to this day. It’s strong enough to withstand McKesson taking Dorsey to task on stage for Twitter still not being a safe enough environment.
Mckesson said he loves Twitter, but it has a dark side. He currently has 300,000 followers and has blocked 19,000, some of them for death threats.
Dorsey countered that one of Twitter’s five main priorities include the safety of the platform, but he added,“We have always talked about safety, but I dont know that we applied engineering resources to it. That has changed.”
Dorsey and Mckesson, apparently, talk with some frequency about Twitter features. “I want Twitter to have a game, an app game,” said Mckesson as he looked over at Dorsey and added, “I dont think he agrees with me.”
Both men do agree that even with the challenges Twitter faces on the safety and growth sides, it plays an important role in public discourse and showing people whats really going on.
Dorsey, who didnt spend a lot of time going into the details of his plan for Twitter growth, did note that hes focused on speed, daily execution and serving the use-cases in which Twitter excels:“No. 1 is that real-time live nature, that breaking news aspect. No. 2 is conversation, finding community and conversations.”
Dorsey wants to ensure that when newcomers arrive to Twitter, it’s obvious how to use it and gain from it.
In the meantime. Mckesson keeps suggesting new Twitter features. Dorsey joked that maybe he should hire him.
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