Banning hate speech ‘easy decision’

Twilio co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson has had a charmed 2018. Even after the recent stock market slump, shares of his cloud software company have tripled in value this year, bolstering Lawson’s net worth by hundreds of millions of dollars.

But while it’s been a good year for Twilio, whose technology powers text and video-based communications systems, Lawson is distressed by what he sees among his Silicon Valley peers.

He can’t understand why it’s so hard for companies to stand up to hate speech and cut off abusers.

“It’s an easy decision to make,” Lawson said in a phone interview this week while in Europe meeting with customers. “There’s a responsibility that we all have to help ensure we’re not just building a good company but a better society around us.”

Lawson wrote a blog post on Monday titled, “Words matter, and they’re destabilizing the American tribe.” The post came after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh, where a gunman stormed the Tree of Life synagogue and killed 11 Jewish worshippers, and after another person mailed explosive devices to prominent Democrats (none exploded).

In both cases, the people accused of these crimes shared their violent hate speech on social media networks.

Lawson criticized the current “power-holders” in America for allowing white nationalism and other once-extreme views to be discussed and debated openly. But he also slammed “social media companies who go out of their way to ensure that extreme right wing views are treated fairly.”

Lawson told CNBC he understands there could be murky situations requiring tough judgment calls.

But he said that far too many business executives use that struggle as an excuse to do nothing.

“That’s a facade that some leaders hide behind to say we’re not going to try,” Lawson said. “Yes, sometimes it is hard. There is a gray area.”

He noted that business leaders have to deal with complicated decisions all the time.

“All day, every day we make decisions with imperfect information, whether it’s hiring people, making investments or entering new regions.”

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