The Twitter buy would have had an impact on Facebook’s News Feed also. In real life, after the rejected offer, Facebook tried to copy a number of Twitter’s features, including a real-time urgency and an increased viral pulse. That would not have been necessary if Facebook owned Twitter. Maybe the News Feed would not have courted so much of the toxicity it became known for later on.
The big impact for Facebook, though, would have been a massive data merger of the databases of both companies. As it would later do with WhatsApp, Facebook undoubtedly would have integrated the profile information between the two apps, much to the consternation of privacy advocates. In addition to all the likes, shared interests, and other data from its Blue app, one’s dossier would have included Twitter behavior—whom you follow, what you shared, what tweets you clicked on. This would have reaped bigger profits, making ads on Facebook a little better, but really supercharging the ads on Twitter, as the combined information would have allowed for precision targeting of sponsored tweets.
Facebook would also have used its growth acumen to drive up Twitter’s membership, as it has done with Instagram and WhatsApp. The 330 million or so users on Twitter now are chicken feed for Facebook. In our alternate universe, at least a billion users all over the world might have ended up on Twitter.
If Facebook had owned Twitter in addition to Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, it would have ended up even more powerful—and profitable—than it is now. On the other hand, it probably would have added to Facebook’s woes in the aftermath of the election, as the social conglomerate would have become a one-stop shop for disinformation. (One thing Facebook and Twitter share: Both allow Donald Trump to say anything he cares to, even if it violates content policy. He could cross-post!)
As time went on, Dorsey would have eventually joined his fellow founders in the Facebook sphere in feeling disempowered and betrayed. Eventually, he would have resigned, just as the others did. Meanwhile, regulators, legislators, and attorneys general would be calling to break off Twitter from Facebook—as they are demanding with WhatsApp and Instagram.
If that happened, Twitter might be independent once more. Dorsey, fresh from a meditation retreat in Botswana, would reassume leadership and return Twitter to what it once was—quirky, underperforming, and less of a worry than Facebook is.
With one exception. In my counterhistory, Twitter would have adopted a feature beloved by anyone who has ever posted on Facebook’s News Feed. Yes, if Facebook had bought Twitter, we’d be able to edit our tweets.
Or so goes my dream.
In real life, Dorsey’s exile from Twitter ended in March 2011, when then-CEO Dick Costolo brought him back both for his design savvy and, as he puts it, a “sincere appreciation for the vision of the founder.” That’s when Dorsey’s double-tracking—reviled by outside investor Singer—began. He addressed this in interviews I conducted with him for a 2012 profile in WIRED: