Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey joined a podcast hosted by a prominent fitness personality who also happens to tout the disproven and dangerous conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism in children.
It was the latest in a string of media appearances in which Dorsey rubbed elbows with a far-right or fringe personality and propelled a bad actor to greater prominence.
On Tuesday, Dorsey was a guest on a yet-unreleased episode of Ben Greenfield’s podcast and praised him for “all you do to simplify the mountain of research focused on increasing one’s healthspan.” Journalists who have been following Dorsey on his tour de conspiracy were quick to point out that Greenfield recently declared on Twitter that “vaccines do indeed cause autism,” advising, “don’t trust Snopes for your news on this matter.”
A Twitter spokesperson told HuffPost that Dorsey didn’t know about Greenfield’s ideology going into the podcast and that Dorsey’s appearance on a show isn’t an endorsement of the host’s views.
But Dorsey’s mere presence on a program gives a gargantuan platform to the person sitting across from him. In this case, it was a person who recently told his followers to ignore modern medicine that saves lives. (Greenfield posted articles about health and fitness to HuffPost’s contributor platform before its closure in 2018.)
Just last week, Dorsey also appeared on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, a popular talk show that counts conspiracy theorist Alex Jones among its list of esteemed guests. There, Dorsey placated the host by saying he was “probably way too aggressive” in banning users who were engaging in a “learn to code” harassment campaign against laid-off journalists. That single appearance ― in which Dorsey fielded dozens of bad faith questions about Twitter’s political bias ― launched Rogan’s podcast episode to 3 million views on YouTube and served as tacit permission for extremists to continue their online harassment campaigns. It wasn’t his most popular episode, but the episodes before and after it received 1.6 million and 1 million views, respectively. (Read more about that blunder over at the Daily Beast.)
At this point, the company Dorsey keeps is leading to questions about his personal views. Direct questions about his views on vaccines ― including whether he believes they cause autism or should be administered in children ― didn’t get clear answers. The spokesperson noted that Dorsey hasn’t made his views on vaccines public, and subsequent requests for a statement or an interview went unanswered.
Dorsey has long been criticized for overreaching in his attempts to appease conservatives, especially extreme far-right voices. He has repeatedly catered to conservative groups’ complaints that his platform has a bias against them, and in joining them to bicker over a bad-faith issue, he promotes the internet’s most fringe — and sometimes dangerous — viewpoints.
He drew flak when he offered a rare public apology to Candace Owens for calling her “far right,” for example, while staying mostly silent about journalists and commentators who were being victimized by real harassment campaigns on his platform (some of those, by the way, are ongoing).
In an interview with HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg, he claimed that he didn’t have an “agenda to mollify” those voices but said he’s “not going to stop” hearing them out:
To me, I think it’s useful to hear perspective, even if I don’t believe it, just to hear what other people are saying. I value that, so I’m not going to stop. But it’s not an agenda to mollify, it’s an agenda to listen and hear, like, what’s being said and why it’s being said.
But as Feinberg points out, the simplest questions are often the most difficult for Dorsey to answer. On Wednesday, as questions were being raised about his views, the only party willing to speak publicly about vaccines was Greenfield, who said that he and Dorsey didn’t discuss the issue.