After Donald Trump was banned from Twitter, it didn’t take long for the platform he dominated for years to become a more peaceful locale. On the latest Pivot podcast, Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway discuss how the company can benefit from its most famous user’s absence, and whether Trump can mount a political comeback without it.
Kara Swisher: Twitter says they will be banning Donald Trump from the platform for life, even if he runs for president again in 2024. During the company’s fourth quarter earnings call, CEO Jack Dorsey said that, “We’re a platform that is obviously much larger than any one topic or any one account.”
Meanwhile, the Indian government threatened to have Twitter employees jailed. Twitter blocked over 500 accounts criticizing the country’s prime minister, but that wasn’t enough for the government, apparently. This week, Twitter’s earnings report and company failed to beat user growth expectations. So, talk about Twitter. There’s a lot going on there.
Scott Galloway: Disclosure: I’m a shareholder. So look, Twitter needs to do three things to get to a hundred bucks, right? They need to go to subscription, they need to go vertical with content, and they need to have a full-time CEO. They announced just a week ago that they are getting serious about subscriptions, and the stock is up 20 percent in the face of kind of anemic user growth. Jim Cramer, who gets a lot of shit online … I feel better about myself because I’ve gotten so much shit on Twitter lately. And I put out a tweet — Jim Cramer said he thinks Twitter is going to a hundred bucks. And my Twitter feed got flooded with all these very negative things about Jim. He’s an easy target. I’ve always found him a thoughtful, nice man.
Swisher: He is.
Galloway: But anyway, he had an interesting take — that Twitter is moving to starch its hat white … I think the term he used was “kindness” or “purity.” When Pinterest went kind, when Snap went kind, their stocks accelerated. I didn’t make that observation. And his viewpoint is that kicking Trump off is a move towards becoming a gentler place. And there might be some truth to that. But here’s the thing: The laziest move ever was to let the rage and engagement and short-term sugar high of this very controversial misinformation spread from — not primarily one account — but most distinctly one account.
Swisher: Attached to one account. Literally.
Galloway: And they never showed the backbone to kick him off. 1,449 days into his 1,460 day tenure, they kick him off. And what do you know? The stock is up dramatically. It dipped — it went down 11 percent when they first did it, because investors got worried. But now, everyone is like, well, I feel like I need to shower a little less often on Twitter.
Swisher: Right. It’s interesting. I was talking to someone from GLAAD, the gay and lesbian organization that looks at these things, and I was asking Sarah Kate Ellis how they deal with these companies, because they’re going to do a grade for them, like they did for Hollywood companies. And she said, “If I had to pick one — none of them get great grades, but Twitter at least is responsive. And this thing that they did just changed the equation for them, with us.”
Being a hair-on-fire place where people scream at each other — it’s not their best business. And as you said, if they bought CNN or they did a subscription model … They miss so many turns. Vine. There’s so many turns they missed. They missed Clubhouse, really.
Swisher: Substack, right.
Galloway: Clubhouse, TikTok.
Galloway: And they’re coming to the realization that being a handmaid to sedition can be a good business model — but you have to be a handmaid to sedition at scale like Google or Facebook.
And they’ve also recognized that having any part in a Capitol police officer being bludgeoned by a fire extinguisher is a bad business model. I think they’re finally coming to grips — it’ll take them twice as long because their CEO is part time, but they’re coming to grips with the fact that they can’t be the number-three player in rage. It’s not only bad for the commonwealth, it’s bad for shareholders. And think about this: If they just get to 10 percent of the revenues from subscription, the stock hits triple digits. By the way, Twitter shares have doubled in the last 12 months.
Swisher: People are enjoying themselves on Twitter a little bit more. It feels more interesting and thoughtful. And as a news consumption vehicle, especially for analysis and things like that, it’s very helpful.
As I told you, my son is using it a lot. He likes it for news. He reads, he follows certain people, he gets different points of view. It has a lot of utility in that regard and I think that’s a great thing. The question is: Can Trump make a successful political comeback without the Twitter megaphone? Can you imagine if he had Twitter this week during the impeachment hearings? I’m so glad you can’t hear from him, except for those stupid statements he releases, or his dumb lawyers.
Galloway: It’s like George Costanza with that episode in Seinfeld where every instinct he has, he does the opposite. Every instinct I have around Donald Trump, every prediction I’ve made about Donald Trump, the exact opposite has happened. I am totally incapable of understanding his supporters and him. So I’ll pivot back to you. What do you think?
Swisher: I think he’s going to have a hard time. I think it was his oxygen. And I think that, combined with the rallies — that was something. Now he could keep doing those, but I think people are tired of covering them. Right? So he’s going to have to do a lot of rallying, do this sort of barnstorming tour, and he’s old. I’m sorry, he’s four years older. You know what I mean? And the act gets a little wearying after a while.
Galloway: Yeah, you’ve always said that.
Swisher: And so I think his favorite people go to see him play the same songs over and over again, but it gets a little like — what’s next? And I think without Twitter to change things up, it’s hard. I think it’s really hard for him. And I think this trial, even though he’s not going to get convicted by the Senate — apparently because the Republican senators are just ignoring reality — I think this stuff the Democrats are doing are putting a real stain on him in a way that’s just “Ugh, this guy.” And I don’t know if it’ll stick, but it’s certainly damning historically. It’s damning historically to him.
Pivot is produced by Rebecca Sananes. Erica Anderson is the executive producer.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.