Exit to Democratic User Ownership. A modest proposal to #BuyTwitter

The annual meeting of Twitter’s stockholders will be held tomorrow, Monday, May 22, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time, at Twitter’s San Francisco offices. Twitter shareholders will have to consider a shareholder resolution to explore options to turn the social network into a cooperative owned by its users—Proposal 4 – Exit to Democratic User Ownership:

RESOLVED: Stockholders request that Twitter, Inc. engage consultants with significant experience in corporate governance, preferably including conversion of companies to cooperatives or employee ownership, to prepare a report on the nature and feasibility of selling the platform to its users via a cooperative or similar structure with broad-based ownership and accountability mechanisms. The requested report shall be available to stockholders and investors by October 1, 2017, prepared at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information.

It all started when Nathan Schneider put forward his plan to save Twitter in an op-ed for The Guardian last September 2016. Twitter was against the ropes, and contemplating a sale to Google, Salesforce, Disney, Microsoft, or who knows, which has not yet materialised.

The idea developed into a change.org petition which Twitter didn’t respond. Twitter’s board of directors is, unsurprisingly, not too keen on selling the micro-blogging site to its users. They argue that the proposal is not in the best interests of Twitter and their stockholders, and they recommend to vote against the stockholders proposal:

We believe that preparing a report on the nature and feasibility of selling the “platform,” and doing so only to “its users,” would be a misallocation of resources and a distraction to our board of directors and management—resources and management time that could otherwise be used to build the long-term value of Twitter.

Here you can find more debate about the idea.

It is of course difficult to anticipate how successful a future Twitter owned by their users (us) would be, and very likely we won’t know in the near future. However, in a moment in which democracy and freedom are receding worldwide, the fact that the platforms we use “to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers” rely on a single, old and overworked business model, is not particularly encouraging. I have to agree with Maira Sutton‘s initial statement:

It’s time we expand our imaginations in order to create a more open, inclusive, and people-centred Internet.

And why not? Maybe, it time for conscientious, activist shareholders to have a say in the global digital governance.

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