Ev Williams is a 42 year-old billionaire and one of the founders of the company that created the popular communications tool Twitter.
Recently, Ev Williams posted a five-second video on Twitter implying that Human Rights Watch (HRW) should be embarrassed because one of its pieces of marketing was made in China.
China, which has not allowed Twitter to operate in its market, is widely criticized for its abuses of human rights. (HRW has documented some of these abuses here.)
The consistent defense of human rights is thankless work: you piss off everyone, you don’t make any money and you endanger yourself and your colleagues. By most accounts, HRW does it well and it has been doing so since 1978.
A Vine video – a tweet – is a curious rhetorical mode. As a tool for sparring, it allows for a quick jab. You can wound your opponent without exposing yourself to a riposte.
Of all the forms of rhetoric, it’s an odd choice to discuss a topic that is complicated and nuanced.
Thus, we don’t know if Ev Williams is basing his critique on moral or political grounds. We don’t know if he believes that companies that do trade with China are perpetuating an unjust regime. We don’t know if Ev Williams ranks China as a more egregious human rights offender than Saudi Arabia. We don’t know if Ev Williams believes Twitter is more consistent than HRW when it comes to the defense of human rights abroad or in China, in particular. We don’t know if Ev Williams has mistaken the success of Twitter with the advancement of human rights.
We are left to assume so much. Including what is motivating him. I submit it’s sadness.