Twitter’s Jack Dorsey came across as an odd mixture of Silicon Valley arrogance and American disinterest.
Frankly speaking, I was a wee bit bored meeting Jack Dorsey, the hippie-looking, languid CEO of Twitter. I was among the women invited to talk to him about our experience of abuse, violence and sexism on his platform. But he came across as an odd mixture of Silicon Valley arrogance and American disinterest. In a Black Mirror moment I spent most of the hour we spent with him tweeting on other stuff. Little did I know then that a photograph taken just as most of us were grabbing our bags to exit the room would create such a gigantic furore.
Dorsey had the air of someone whose India trip had already given him all the headlines he needed. We are a critical commercial market with an estimated 34.4 active million users every month. And Jack had met everyone who mattered – from the Prime Minister to Shah Rukh Khan. Except his PR dream soon became a PR nightmare. By the time he was done with us he had exposed just how sexist and cowardly his organisation is and how downright amateur his team’s handling was of his India trip. He also managed the impossible; he enraged both liberals and right-wing Indians.
The controversy erupted when a photograph of a few of us with Jack Dorsey and Vijaya Gadde (Twitter’s global legal head) circulated on social media. Dorsey was holding a poster that on closer examination read: Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy. I had not even noticed the poster in Jack’s hands, either during or after the meeting. I subsequently learnt that it had been gifted to him by Sanghapali Aruna, one of the Dalit activists invited to meet him. There were several employees of Twitter, many of them female, present in the room. The picture was clicked by one of them and subsequently sent on email to us. We were cheerily informed that we were free to share it on social media. I never bothered to do so. I only noticed the poster when the photograph was out and the Right wing was having a meltdown over it.
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
What happened thereafter – mostly Twitter’s dangerous misrepresentation and half-truths about our meeting – made us take the unusual decision of going public, individually and collectively, with what really went down in the interaction. This is especially important since all of us in the photo have been relentlessly threatened with criminal suits, hate speech and violent threats over the last two days.
Gadde described by Fortune as one of the most powerful women on the West Coast – infuriated me with her apology to Twitter handles who were falsely accusing us of instigating hate. She was also deceitful in claiming that the photograph shared was “private”. She was clearly trying to deflect blame and responsibility on us instead of owning Twitter’s poor handling of the entire episode. And worse she did not reveal what she actually said behind closed doors.
Sanghapali pointed out that Twitter’s abuse policy did not recognise caste slurs as a basis for reporting accounts. It was underlined that Twitter would never dare to do this with Race and people of colour in America.
Unexpectedly Gadde choked up, broke into tears, hastily asked for a glass of water and then apologised for what she conceded should have been obvious. This admission of being tone-deaf on India’s caste fault-lines may have been one reason that Dorsey – without anyone asking him to do so – held up the poster later. Or it could be that he simply did not understand the content of what was written – and an incompetent Twitter team had not briefed him well on the country he was trying to win over. For Gadde to gloss over this entire exchange was doublespeak. Basically she was apologising to one group in private and to another in public. In Twitter’s clumsy attempt to be all things to all people, it ended up being nothing to anyone.
Now to the phrase itself. For those of us who are women of privilege – we have all had to educate ourselves in the basic intersectionality of Feminism. Put simply all this means is that Caste and Class intersect with Gender to create multiple inequalities for groups that have been traditionally marginalised and oppressed. “Brahmanical Patriarchy”- is a well established academic term (including a seminal paper by Uma Chakravarti on it) to convey the idea of any upper caste hegemony. Whether you agree with the term or not – or find it Marxist or Colonial in semiotics – the one thing it is NOT is an attack on Brahmins. Much like the phrase White Privilege, it is a critique of hierarchy not any community or group. That said, had I noticed the poster in Jack Dorsey’s hands I would not have stood in the same photo frame. Because I see Dorsey as an outsider to India and a rather clueless person on the many complexities of my country. And I don’t think an American CEO has basis to preach. Equally, I would never tell a Dalit woman that her experience of caste hegemony is not valid. That would be patronising and insensitive.
Yes, from Twitter’s point of view, with its CEO visiting in an election year in a country where caste is more of a minefield than even religion, Jack Dorsey should have been better advised. But Twitter’s Snafus cannot be dumped on the women they invited – ostensibly to discuss how to make the platform more gender-friendly. Effectively Twitter’s lies have left us as women vulnerable, unsafe and open to endless court cases.
It turns out though that as strong, opinionated, independent women we do a much better job of handling trolls on Twitter than Jack Dorsey or Vijaya Gadde do. We still hold our own. So dear Jack and Vijaya: Hope you got a good – and educative – taste of your own medicine.
The author is a senior journalist and founder of Mojo.
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