Amid slow user growth and plummeting stock, Twitter announced it is cutting 9 percent of its staff and shutting down its live video platform Vine today. Despite acquisition rumors, many of Twitter’s top suitors have said they aren’t interested, in a display of public rejection straight out of a 90s teen movie
But maybe instead of the prom king, Twitter should set it sights on a less obvious choice. Perhaps a loyal friend who’s always loved Twitter, just the way it is?
A growing number of Twitter users are asking the company to choose them instead of a big tech corporation. The Internet of Ownership organization launched a campaign, called #WeAreTwitter, to turn the 140-character network into a cooperative owned by its users. The petition has about 1,500 signatures so far.
“Your CEO, Jack Dorsey, recently called you ‘the people’s news network,'” #WeAreTwitter’s manifesto says. “What if you really were the people’s? Why don’t we figure out a way for us to buy you instead? Wall Street thinks you’ve failed. That’s because Wall Street only likes you for your stock price. We, on the other hand, think you’re great.”
The campaign started with journalist and author Nathan Schneider, who published his plan to save Twitter in The Guardian. He wants to set up a cooperative to negotiate on behalf of Twitter users and make a deal. Schneider is a key figure in the platform cooperativism movement, which seeks to democratize more internet services.
“We want a say in the systems that shape our lives and communities,” says #WeAreTwitter. “We want to find a way to create value together, and we want that value to reinforce the commons we’re creating, rather than being auctioned off to Wall Street. Let’s build a better kind of business model than selling our eyeballs to advertisers, and a better kind of ownership structure than gambling on old-fashioned stock markets.”
So how exactly would this idealistic (read: far-fetched) plan work? Here’s how Schneider explains it:
Assemble a company and invite investment for shares that grant dividend rights, but not voting; gather about 20 percent of the funds needed for the buyout, then borrow the rest, and buy. As for the voting rights, they’d be distributed according to a “ladder of engagement,” including investors and general users, but allocating more control to those who contribute the most value to the platform, such as employees and the most active users. Finally, there could be a few “golden shares” with veto rights, perhaps controlled by a foundation representing all users.
Schneider could also see the U.S. government stepping in to recognize Twitter as a public utility — an idea that New York Times Reporter Farhad Manjoo has also floated.
“Twitter, remember when you first started,” the #WeAreTwitter manifesto says. “Nobody thought 140 characters at a time would amount to anything, and look what we’ve done together since then. Let’s do something amazing again. Let’s do this.”