Yesterday evening, two different faces of internet power and caprice grimaced at the public.
First, Joe Ricketts, the billionaire CEO of the local-news publications DNAinfo and Gothamist shut down their websites. The decision came less than a week after writers at the publications had voted to organize. The DNAinfo and Gothamistwebsites, along with those of other local affiliates like DCist, Chicagoist, and LAist, redirected all traffic to a letter by Ricketts announcing the shuttering.
Second, for 11 brief minutes around 7 p.m. eastern time, Donald Trump’s Twitter account vanished. “This account doesn’t exist,” the website reported. It was quickly restored, and Twitter officials clarified that the removal was the rogue act of a customer-service employee on his or her last day at the company. Twitter vowed a full review to “prevent this from happening again.”
These two examples of exerting power online couldn’t appear more different. On the one hand, Ricketts, who is also the founder of TD Ameritrade, unilaterally closed the online, local-news business he’d purchased just seven months prior. Ricketts has a history of distaste for unions, and the sites’ writers reportedly faced threats for pondering unionization. When extreme wealth turns journalism into a hobby, the caprice of a rich owner can put 115 people out of jobs—not to mention erase years of their work.
On the other hand, the rogue Twitter employee, who has not yet been identified nor come forward, does not enjoy the arbitrary power afforded to heads of state or captains of industry. If Twitter’s response is accurate, the employee is a cog in a rote service role at a company of thousands, and doesn’t even appear to rise to the cultural and economic status of the technical employees who build and maintain a service like Twitter. Even so, he or she could interrupt, if temporarily, Trump’s direct channel to more than 41 million people.