Jack Dorsey’s India visit seems to be about fixing Twitter’s image, not its real issues

Dorsey's responses during his visit didn't really reveal anything that we didn't already know

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is on his maiden India tour and has already addressed students at IIT Delhi, met the Dalai Lama, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and also met the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. 

Keeping in mind the upcoming elections in India in 2019, Twitter has begun a brand new initiative called #PowerOf18 which encourages the youth to exercise their right to vote. Dorsey has been having a lot of discussions around curbing the menace of fake news. Post his meeting with Gandhi, the Congress president tweeted, "Twitter has grown into the most dominant 'conversation' platform globally. Jack explained some of the steps being taken to keep those conversations healthy and measures being taken to tackle the menace of fake news."

Jack Dorsey meets Narendra Modi. Image: Twitter/Narendra Modi

Jack Dorsey meets Narendra Modi. Image: Twitter/Narendra Modi

Before meeting the PM, Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba on 12 November had called for a meeting with Twitter officials to ask the platform to take action over 'objectionable' content being shared on Twitter. Representatives from Twitter India were asked, "to ensure a 24x7 mechanism for prompt disposal of requisitions of law enforcement agencies for deletion of unlawful/objectionable content from their platform."

We have seen the ill-effects of the spread of misinformation when earlier this year over 30 people were lynched by mobs. The reason being given was the spread of false information on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp. Twitter, although less popular among the majority of Indian users, as compared to WhatsApp, is also a platform that can cause virality in both a good and bad manner. With general elections coming up next year in India, the stakes are high. In such scenarios, Twitter should be doing as much as it can to ensure that its platform isn't used as a propaganda machine by political parties.

Speaking to The Economic Times, Dorsey said that Twitter is focussed on ensuring that its platform is not misused. According to him, misinformation which misleads people into performing some untoward action, is dangerous and that needs to be kept in check. "In terms of reaction times, there's always an opportunity to move faster and do better. But I will say that we will never arrive at a perfect solution. That's not possible and anyone who's telling you that is fooling themselves," said Dorsey.

This didn't sound very different from what Dorsey had said at the US Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations on social media platforms. “We found ourselves unprepared and ill-equipped for the immensity of the problems we've acknowledged. Abuse, harassment, troll armies, propaganda through bots and human coordination, disinformation campaigns and divisive filter bubbles — that's not a healthy public square," Dorsey had said then.

Unlike Facebook, which has named fact-checking partners to ensure fake news is kept under check, Twitter wants to keep the process of fact-checking independent of countries. Dorsey observed that there would have to be multiple ways of looking at the issue of fact-checking and Twitter would want to experiment with different solutions.

Dorsey touched upon how Twitter can also lead to some positive outcomes and increase transparency in issues such as the #MeToo movement, which got victims of sexual assault together and gave them the means to voice their experiences and call out predators. Or the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Here, what Dorsey says is true to a large extent. The Arab Spring revolution is the best example of how Twitter, when used correctly, can actually bring about a revolution.

On the other hand, a revolution can also be bad. A lot of regimes have used Twitter to spin their own narrative to push forth their agenda. Weaponisation of social media is an oft-heard term and with the elections coming up next year, rest assured some of that will be witnessed. Dorsey acknowledged this but said that if Twitter finds anyone using the platform to artificially amplify their message, then those accounts are shut down. Twitter recently went on an account deleting initiative, at the cost of losing members, to keep the platform clean. While that's a move in the right direction, there have been instances where Twitter has been virtually acting on behalf of a government.

Dorsey also touched upon the topic of 'filter bubbles' and 'echo chambers' and opined that if people followed topics instead of accounts, it would give them a fuller perspective on matters. He added that he didn't have any concrete answers to these questions, but Twitter would continue to experiment on the same.

Product wise, Dorsey did not have any major announcement to make. While he did speak to the students of IIT Delhi and media houses here, the responses given by Dorsey didn't really reveal anything that we didn't already know. Unlike other Silicon Valley CEOs who come here with an agenda and have at least some announcements to make, Dorsey, it seems, just wanted to take it slow and have face time with top politicians as India goes into an election year. Hopefully, the visit has given him enough ideas to put something into motion on Twitter to contain the spread of misinformation and prevent a misuse of the platform during the Indian elections.

In a way, it's good that the Twitter CEO proactively made the visit and didn't wait for a major scandal to break out on Twitter to justify coming here. Surely, there are some lessons for WhatsApp to learn from this. There are still five months to go for the general elections in India to begin. Hopefully, that should give enough lead time for platforms such as Twitter to put into place measures which will prevent the spread of misinformation or objectionable content. #PowerOf18 in and of itself would not amount to much if malicious actors are still able to use the platform to spread false propaganda or fake news, troll and abuse users who have a different point of view and spread hate, among other things.

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