Twitter issues apology after CEO Jack Dorsey’s photo holding placard stirs online storm

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New Delhi | November 21, 2018 12:39 PM

Aruna, who works on digital literacy among the DBA and Muslim communities, had a conversation with Dorsey on the links between caste and gender.

twitterThe backlash eventually forced Twitter to issue a swift clarification.

Twitter has been caught in the midst of a major online onslaught after a photograph of its CEO Jack Dorsey holding a placard during his visit to India triggered a “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy” versus “Hinduphobia” debate on the social media platform. All hell broke loose after a photo of Dorsey holding a placard created by US-based Dalit rights activist and artist Thenmozhi Soundararajan went viral. The placard read “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy”. Reactions poured in and Dorsey was blasted on the social media and accused of “Hinduphobia” and “inciting violence and hate”.

The backlash eventually forced Twitter to issue a swift clarification. “It 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 that happen on our service around the world,” it said.

Twitter’s response came after a flood of messages that blasted the poster as “Brahminophobic.” Joint Secretary (Parliament) IPS officer Sandeep Mittal posted on his verified handle that the picture has “potential of causing communal riots…and is a “fit case for registering a criminal case for attempt to destabilise the nation.”

Twitter’s legal head Vijaya Gadde issued an apology. “I’m very sorry for this. 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 & we must do better to serve our customers in India,” she posted on Twitter.

Speaking to The Indian Express later, Soundararajan said she knew that Sanghapali Aruna of Project Mukti was set to meet the Twitter CEO during his recent India visit and gift him two of her posters. However, she never realised that it would lead to such a storm. “I have nothing but empathy for Jack. For one day, simply for carrying a piece of Dalit feminist art, he got a taste of violence that Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi (DBA) women and gender non-binary folks face on a daily basis,” Thenmozhi was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

Aruna, who works on digital literacy among the DBA and Muslim communities, had a conversation with Dorsey on the links between caste and gender. She wondered why Twitter apologised when it would never be an apologist for “white supremacy. She underlined that the posters were meant to call out the institutionalised oppression, both on ground and online.

“Caste system doesn’t operate only on ground but also on these platforms. Our communities are new to this platform, especially since many are not familiar with English as a medium. Now, when we have found a voice on Twitter to mobilise and organise, Twitter has a responsibility to create safe spaces for communities that are more vulnerable,” said Aruna.

Dorsey was visiting India for the first time last week and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During the meeting, they discussed the importance of global conversations on social media platforms. After his meeting, Dorsey tweeted pictures from his meeting and said: “Thank you Prime Minister @narendramodi for having us today. I enjoyed our conversation about the importance of global conversation. Also: thanks for the ideas for Twitter!”

In response, Modi said: “Delighted to meet you @jack! Happy to see the passion with which you’re leading @Twitter. I enjoy being on this medium, where I’ve made great friends and see everyday the creativity of people.”

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