Twitter shareholders reject calls to investigate co-operative ownership

But activists say they will continue their the campaign to move the social media platform to community ownership

A campaign to turn social media platform Twitter into a co-operative was rejected at the company’s annual general meeting.

Activists on the #BuyTwitter campaign, led by small stockholder Jim McRitchie, submitted a resolution to Twitter’s shareholders asking them to investigate the idea.

Shareholders voted it down after the board recommended its rejection, saying it “would be a misallocation of resources and a distraction to our board of directors and management”.

However, the move gained 4% of the vote, leaving the way clear for activists to repeat the attempt. If a motion gains more than 3%, proposers are allowed to resubmit it the following year.

The motion asked shareholders to “request that Twitter, Inc. engage consultants with significant experience in corporate governance, preferably including conversion of companies to co-operatives or employee ownership, to prepare a report on the nature and feasibility of selling the platform to its users via a co-operative or similar structure with broad-based ownership and accountability mechanisms.”

Mr McRitchie, who proposed the move at the meeting along with German investor Steffen Sauerteig, told the San Francisco Chronicle after the vote that Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey seemed interested in learning more.

“This proposal caught fire not with shareholders; it caught fire with users,” he said. “My point to Jack was you want to harness that fire.

“Users obviously feel a certain amount of alienation, they feel they don’t have a voice in how Twitter is run, but if they had ownership to some extent the excitement around Twitter could grow even more. He seems to be as open to that idea.”

Danny Spitzberg from the #BuyTwitter campaign told followers in a mass email there was still cause for optimism.

“After the meeting, everything seems possible for our group,” he said.

“A stock market analyst who has helped guide our efforts emailed me saying: ‘You have legitimacy now from the shareholder vote. That carries weight. Leverage it to the fullest. Media coverage may very well be in your favour, too.’”

The campaign had been growing in the run-up to the meeting, with the group using online organising platform the Action Network to launch a petition for a co-operative Twitter.

Mr Spitzberg said: “An organising collective formed to make that petition, and then myself and Jim and others evolved it into a proposal we submitted to Twitter for their general meeting.”

Twitter’s board tried to keep the issue off the ballot completely, but the campaign group submitted a rebuttal and the company agreed it should go to a vote.

“This was all people power,” added Mr Spitzberg, “and it seems to have attracted dozens of positive press pieces which likely tipped the balance on the vote.”

And the issue is still an important one for the campaigners, who, in the run-up to the vote warned on the Action Network: “For a lot of us Twitter is the fastest, easiest way to know and share what’s going on around us – it sparks conversations, spreads information, and energises movements.

“But Wall Street thinks the company is a failure because it’s not raking in enough profit for shareholders. That means that Twitter is up for sale, and there is a real risk that the new owner may ruin our beloved platform with a narrow pursuit of profit or political gains.”

It adds: “We want the company to share its future with those whose participation make it so valuable: its users.

“We can foster innovation from the community and create a better, more user-friendly business model.”

The campaign won support from Co-operatives UK, which discussed the plan with US activists in the early stages of the idea and joined other organisations in the UK which helped to rally interest.

The apex body for UK co-ops is also researching the willingness of Twitter users to invest in a user-owned Twitter.