An Apology to My Twitter Colleagues

I did a stupid thing

Jon Bell
3 min readSep 28, 2021

I loved my time at Twitter. I worked there for nearly four years starting in 2014. Most people probably remember me as being very high energy, very talkative, and pretty positive. I was really happy to be there, and I let everyone know it.

Then in 2019 I decided I’d give a talk about my time at Twitter. I had a great idea for a hook/story arc:

  • A lot of people wonder why Twitter “sucks at abuse.”
  • Well hello! I can explain what went wrong because I was there!
  • And guess what, the problem isn’t what you’d think.
  • The problem was people like me. The people that stayed, my amazing co-workers still fighting the good fight? They’re doing a great job. People like me weren’t able to turn things around for a variety of reasons.
  • Conclusion

I called the talk Abuse and Disinformation at Twitter: An Inside Story. In my talk description, I said things like how I was “haunted by the team’s inability to take the threat seriously and make significant progress towards addressing it.” Which was an awful thing to say, and upset a lot of people.

I made a calculation that a tell-all description like that would get me invited to tell the story on a big stage (I was right) and that people would watch the talk and understand that I wasn’t blaming anyone on the team. (I was wrong) I thought people would understand it was a public love letter to my co-workers, and that I believed in them and was rooting for their success.

I was proud of myself for making a Trojan Horse talk where you think I’m going to hype myself up, talk about how smart I am, how everyone else is just resting & vesting, drop the mic, and get job offers… but instead turn it back around on myself. I planned to call out the elephant in the room with this slide, then go into a whole other surprise story.

This is where I pivot from “I’m so smart” to “actually the problem was people like me”
This is where the twist happens.

The twist was me saying “This is where talks go wrong, because think of my motivation for being here. Think of why I would have submitted a talk in order to tell my side of the story. I’m supposed to say everything was bad before me, but fortunately I’m awesome and I went on a hero’s journey. I’m supposed to talk about the heroic things I did, against the bad guys who don’t care as much as I do because I’m great. But that’s not actually what happened. Let me tell you what actually went down, because it’s something we can all learn from if we stop trying to appear perfect all the time.”

My gamble didn’t work. People read my hurtful description, got rightfully upset, didn’t watch the talk, and thought I was badmouthing the work they had done. And I can’t blame them. I messed up bad.

I think the talk does a good job explaining what I was trying to say, and makes it very clear where the blame lies, but I hurt a lot of feelings and gave a lot of people the wrong impression. I am very sorry for that.

Recently I’ve been talking to a lot of Twitter alumni and I’ve been reminded just how much I believed in the product, and loved the teams I worked with. And it pains me that I hurt some of the people I was trying to help. I apologise, and I’m so glad we got to work together. Even if my talk description doesn’t make it seem like it.



Jon Bell

Designer, writer, teacher. I love building things.