What really happened at the meeting with Twitter's Jack Dorsey: An open chat, not a planned attack on Brahmins

Last week, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Vijaya Gadde, legal, public policy and trust and safety lead at Twitter, hosted an off-the-record meeting with seven women at the Twitter office in Delhi. The objective of the meeting was to hear Indian women’s experiences of using Twitter as a platform to highlight their opinions and the problems they faced with respect to online harassment.

I attended the meeting with six other women, including journalists and activists, on invitation from Twitter. During the course of the meeting, several important points were raised, including the serious issue of Twitter falling short of addressing sexual harassment, loosely termed as trolling, on its platform. It’s important to note that while some of us knew each other from before, many of us met for the first time on the panel. We each took turns describing our individual experiences on Twitter, including our positive experiences, while Dorsey and the Twitter team listened intently and patiently.

While each of the women shared their own experiences of handling abusive speech or threats, a Dalit rights activist spoke about her experience of being pushed out of the platform by trolls and being doxxed. She spoke about the everyday battles of Dalit men and women fighting casteist slurs on Twitter and how there's no concrete way of reporting these because the reporting list, as of now, do not account for casteist slurs. The Twitter team took note of this and acknowledged it as a problem. Journalist Barkha Dutt made public much of what happened during that meeting late last night on this thread.

Each one of us highlighted the gaps in Twitter’s algorithm in addressing abusive trolling. At the end of the meeting, the Dalit activist who was part of the discussion, gifted the Twitter CEO a poster which he (Dorsey) held while posing for a group photo. The photo was clicked by a Twitter India employee and which we were given permission to share. Some of the panelists were reluctant to post the group photo in public while others exercised their agency in sharing it. Most weren’t even aware that the poster, gifted moments ago, was in the frame. But at no point was any of the Twitter team members asked to acknowledge the poster or share it. It was their choice alone. It wasn’t a private photo as suggested. We were frankly heartened by the positive and empathetic response we received from the Twitter team in actively listening to our concerns and promising to act on them.

The interaction was held behind closed doors to enable all of us and the Twitter team to interact frankly without holding back. However, in the face of the actual legal and physical threats that each one of us now face, it’s imperative that we present a factual record of what transpired. There was no conspiratorial effort to malign any community. There was a circle of women simply speaking about their individual experiences on the platform.

For example, I highlighted the potential of Twitter as a driving force for welfare initiatives, several of which I spearhead. If we spoke of casteist slurs and abusive trolling, it was to seek ways to fix the system so that women from all communities who are fighting it on a daily basis are not pushed out of the platform, which has a tremendous potential of serving social justice.

The poster has been criticised by several Twitter users as an attack on Brahmins. It isn’t. It calls for the end of upper caste oppression of women — a reality in India chronicled through numerous media reports of subjugation of voices from the oppressed communities — which isn’t the same as calling for an attack on Brahmins. The systematic oppression exists in all spaces that men occupy, irrespective of caste and religion. However, it’s important to note that historically, in the context of intersectionality of caste and patriarchy, Dalit women have been subjected to numerous horrors that are well documented and their experiences form the backbone of Twitter’s inclusivity.

Since the poster was tweeted out, Twitter said in a public statement that the “sentiments expressed on the poster do not reflect the views of Twitter as a company or Jack as the CEO, and we regret that this picture has detracted from an otherwise insightful trip to India".

The statement is a little disappointing because, while business concerns are real for a company like Twitter, elsewhere in the world they stand up for what’s right. It’s important to note that Twitter, in the past, has taken political stands, especially in addressing hate. The Twitter CEO in the past has apologised for “accidentally allowing a promoted ad from a white supremacist group to serve on the site". He has taken part in the Ferguson protests and explained why. Both Twitter and Facebook are committed to combating hate speech in Germany.

"We are proud of the fact that Twitter is a platform where marginalised voices can be seen and heard, but we also have a public commitment to being apolitical. We realise that this photo may not accurately represent that commitment," the statement said.

Several thinkers, including BR Ambedkar, have addressed the hegemony of caste, and particularly of Brahmanical patriarchy, so it comes as a disappointment to most of us, faced with harassment and legal threats, that Twitter has chosen to apologise to handles criticising us for allegedly instigating hate. We made it clear during the discussion that we were against any individual — irrespective of their political or caste affiliations — who actively threaten women. Calling for an end to caste oppression does not amount to triggering hate. Hateful tweets targeting women who speak about their experiences of being a minority in an online space, does.

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The following is a statement released by Anna MM Vetticad, Nilanjana S Roy, Rituparna Chatterjee, Sanghapali Aruna, who were present at the meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey:

Last week Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Vijaya Gadde, Legal, Public Policy and Trust and Safety Lead at Twitter, hosted a meeting with a group of women, including the undersigned, at the Twitter office in Delhi where several Twitter employees were present. Twitter asked for it to be an off-the-record meeting to allow everyone involved to be as candid as possible, and we agreed. The objective of the meeting was to hear our experiences of using the platform, to highlight how women's movements and groups had used Twitter, and to share concerns about women's safety and online harassment.

While each of us shared our own experience of handling abusive speech or threats, a Dalit rights activist in the group spoke about her lived experience of Dalits being pushed out of the platform by trolls. She spoke about everyday battles fighting casteist slurs on Twitter and pointed out that caste abuse is not even listed among the categories under which abuse can be reported on Twitter. On hearing this, Vijaya Gadde broke down in tears, and apologised for not having thought of this herself. Though we were all surprised by her reaction and her apparent lack of awareness about caste, we took it as an indicator of her sensitivity to the concerns being expressed.

Each one of us highlighted the gaps in Twitter’s algorithm in addressing abusive trolling. At the meeting, the Dalit rights activist gifted the Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey two posters, one of which, the rest of us have subsequently learnt, said, “End Caste Apartheid” while the other said “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy”. Dorsey chose to hold the poster saying “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy” while posing for a group photo.

The photo was clicked by a Twitter employee, it was mailed to us and we were told it could be shared. It comes as a disappointment to all of us dealing with the abuse, harassment and legal threats that we are facing now, that Vijaya Gadde has, in a Twitter apology, chosen to claim that the photo was a “private photo”, has apologised to handles alleging that we were instigating hate, and — in sharp contrast to her emotional, apologetic response at that private meeting — publicly distanced herself from Dalit and gender concerns.

This is also in sharp contrast to Twitter's strong stand in favour of women and marginalised communities in other countries. Twitter's misrepresentation and half-truths are the only reason why we have felt compelled to take the unusual step of issuing this statement.

We made it clear during the discussion that we were against any individuals — irrespective of their political or caste affiliations — who actively threaten women. We call on Twitter to step up and not capitulate to bigotry, disinformation and bullying, and to address in serious terms the problem of trolls threatening the life and liberty of scores of women and marginalised communities (including Dalits and religious minorities) online.

Signed: Anna MM Vetticad, Nilanjana S Roy, Rituparna Chatterjee, Sanghapali Aruna


Updated Date: Nov 21, 2018 20:26 PM

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