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Could Twitter Become a User-Owned Co-op?

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Twitter stakeholders could commission a study to see what the company would look like as a user-owned cooperative. (Esther Vargas/Flickr)
Twitter stakeholders could commission a study to see what the company would look like as a user-owned cooperative. (Esther Vargas/Flickr)
May 8, 2017

SEATTLE – What if ownership of the social media website Twitter was turned over to its users?

That question isn't just hypothetical anymore. Shareholders at this year's annual meeting will vote whether to commission a study on what cooperative ownership would look like for the technology company.

Nathan Schneider, a media studies scholar-in-residence at the University of Colorado-Boulder, proposed the idea in the Guardian last fall after rumors swirled that Twitter was up for sale.

Schneider says he's been involved for a few years now in a movement called “platform cooperativism.”

"An effort to bring the cooperative business model into the online economy as a way of dealing with some of the abuses in terms of labor and surveillance and this sort of thing,” he explains. “And it just seemed like Twitter is an interesting case for that."

The vote on whether to commission the study on a Twitter co-op will come sometime before May 22. Schneider notes that the proposal isn't likely to pass, but says the goal is simply to keep the conversation going.

Opponents to the proposal argue that users could be more involved in decisions simply by buying stock, giving them a vote at meetings.

In fact, the Buy Twitter campaign encouraged users to buy stock so they could vote on the proposal. But Schneider says that misses the point.

"The way that a publicly traded corporation is set up – legally as well as culturally – and the way a stock market operates, it really orients participants to focus on the short-term value of the stocks that they own," he explains.

Schneider says successful co-ops span many industries, and include Washington-state-based clothing retailer REI, the Associated Press and the Green Bay Packers football team.

He also says the movement toward cooperative business models is something that is catching on among tech companies.

"This is a kind of model that we think can unlock a lot of value that the really investor-driven tech economy that we've had so far is not unlocking and that it can create some new potential in a huge variety of sectors," he states.


Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA