Twitter’s legal head has apologized after a recent picture of chief executive Jack Dorsey sparked outrage by touching on thousands of years of sectarian conflict in India.
The uproar followed Indian writer Anna M. M. Vetticad tweeting a picture of Dorsey holding a “smash Brahminical patriarchy” poster on Sunday, after joining a roundtable discussion on the “Twitter experience in India” with female journalists and activists.
During Twitter CEO @jack's visit here, he & Twitter's Legal head @vijaya took part in a round table with some of us women journalists, activists, writers & @TwitterIndia's @amritat to discuss the Twitter experience in India. A very insightful, no-words-minced conversation ???? pic.twitter.com/LqtJQEABgV
— Anna MM Vetticad (@annavetticad) November 18, 2018
The poster, touching on the caste system in Hindu society, quickly went viral in India. The caste system, divided into several main categories, places Brahmins at the top of the social hierarchy. While India’s constitution has banned caste-based discrimination, remnants of its influence still remain. Tension between Brahmins and Dalits, those lowest on the caste system, have increased in recent years, with 10 people killed while protesting poor treatment of Dalits earlier this year.
Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal and public policy, apologized on Twitter, after a user said she “certainly knew” what Dorsey was holding.
“I’m very sorry for this,” tweeted Gadde. “It’s not [reflective] of our views. We took a private photo with a gift just given to us – we should have been more thoughtful. Twitter strives to be an impartial platform for all. We failed to do that here and we must do better to serve our customers in India.”
I'm very sorry for this. It's not relective of our views. We took a private photo with a gift just given to us – we should have been more thoughtful. Twitter strives to be an impartial platform for all. We failed to do that here & we must do better to serve our customers in India
— Vijaya Gadde (@vijaya) November 19, 2018
A tweet from the company’s India account said the poster “is not a statement from Twitter or our CEO, but a tangible reflection of our company’s efforts to see, hear, and understand all sides of important public conversations.”
The company was criticized by both sides — from Indians who were upset the picture was taken, to Indians upset about Gadde’s apology. One user tweeted Dorsey acted “brainlessly” and asked if the chief exec would hold any placard given to him. “This is not an act of ignorance, this is a deliberate attempt to malign Brahmins,” another user tweeted. Yet another user, angry with Gadde’s apology, tweeted it was a “cop out preventing actual efforts to make this space equal.”
Ironically, Twitter has been determined to make its platform more hospitable in 2018 — introducing several measures, including pushing crass tweets to the bottom of reply threads, to make it less toxic. Twitter, perhaps most notoriously, also banished digital shock jock Alex Jones for “abusive behavior” in September. At the same time, the company has said it doesn’t target users based on their political, cultural or sexual history. “Impartiality is our guiding principle,” Dorsey told Congress earlier this year.
India, it goes without saying, is a critical market for Twitter, like many other tech companies. The country has roughly 500 million people online. Dorsey visited India for a week earlier this month and met with Prime Minister Narenda Modi and the Dalai Lama.