Twitter CEO’s infamous placard row: What the episode reflects

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Published: November 22, 2018 4:36:41 AM

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sparked a social media outcry in India after a picture of him holding a placard with the words ‘smash Brahminical patriarchy’ went viral. Twitter has since denied the charges of ‘hate-mongering’ thrown at it and its leader, saying the placard did not represent either his views or the company’s.

Twitter, Jack Dorsey, right-wing group, Brahmin community, Rajasthan High Court, industry newsTwitter CEO Jack Dorsey. (Reuters)

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sparked a social media outcry in India after a picture of him holding a placard with the words ‘smash Brahminical patriarchy’ went viral. Twitter has since denied the charges of ‘hate-mongering’ thrown at it and its leader, saying the placard did not represent either his views or the company’s. The platform was in damage control mode, in pains to convince Indian Twitter-uses that Dorsey, who was holding a roundtable discussion with a group of women journalists, activists and organisers to understand their experience on the platform in India, was given the poster by one of the attendees and that the picture was a “private picture”.

The episode has sparked a tirade of vitriol and insinuations that Dorsey, through the placard, was propagating hatred against the Brahmin community. Whether you believe this or whether you think the message was simply calling out male privilege as amplified within India’s caste hierarchy, the real question is: Was it prudent action, especially since the social media platform has loudly professed “neutrality” in many previous instances, not all in India?

Some argue that Dorsey as an individual must be seen in isolation, and separate from Twitter’s views and functioning. But, many heavyweights—from an IT mogul to authors, editors and opinion-makers—in India think differently. While some have asked if Dorsey would have held up a ‘pro-democracy’ poster in China, others have retorted that this itself establishes “Brahminical patriarchy” as a problem—and less as an attack on Brahmins—even if not of the same degree as China’s authoritarianism.

Dorsey, the latter have pointed out, has made no bones about meeting the Dalai Lama, the figurehead of Tibetan resistance to “Chinese occupation” even as Facebook and Apple have been seen as amenable to Chinese diktats in a bid to enter the market. Dorsey’s intentions and understanding of “Brahminical patriarchy” notwithstanding, critics must appreciate that a radical viewpoint tests and, in the process, strengthens India’s democracy. For its part, Twitter and its leadership should be aware of their responsibility as a platform for debate rather than becoming entangled in the debate itself.

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