Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
Freedom

Is Twitter’s tokenism when it comes to human rights surprising?

Sabrangindia 24 Nov 2018

Washing their hands off of the controversy over #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and the company’s legal head, Vijaya Gadde, backtracked on the promises they made in the meeting. The women who attended reveal the hypocrisy.


Twitter
 
According to the women who attended the fateful closed-door meeting, Twitter’s tokenism when it comes to human rights was as clear as night and day. Washing their hands off of the controversy over #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and the company’s legal head, Vijaya Gadde, backtracked on the promises they made in the meeting. The women who attended revealed the hypocrisy.
 
Jack and Vijaya attended a meeting with a small group of women journalists and activists and the company has agreed to look into whether to include caste as a separate reporting category under its hateful conduct policy as per a mail sent to the participants of the meeting, reported The Indian Express.

Twitter
 
“Dorsey was photographed with the women holding a poster that read “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy” which led to controversy, after which Twitter India issued a statement on its commitment to being “apolitical”. However, the participants have confirmed that Dorsey had agreed to look into ways to include caste as a part of the company’s policy against ‘hateful conduct,” a report by Quint said.
 
According to a report in The Indian Express, an email was sent to the participants after the meet which read, “Abusing people on the basis of caste would be a type of intra-religious distinction. It would fall under our hateful conduct policies, prohibiting the targeting of people based on their membership in a religious group. However, based on the useful feedback Vijaya received on this trip, she is going to discuss with the team whether this should be called out more explicitly.”
 
Many of those who were present at the meeting found Vijaya’s conduct to be genuine and apologetic about how they had ignored caste bias on Twitter.
 
“In a statement issued by Anna MM Vetticad, Nilanjana S Roy, Rituparna Chatterjee, and Sanghapali Aruna, who were a part of the meeting, the participants said, “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,” the report said.
 
Vetticad shared images of their statement with support from NWMI and were angered by Twitter’s response by pinning the blame on the women who attended the meeting.



 
Barkha Dutt, a senior journalist, who was also a part of the meeting and the photo which caused a controversy wrote a series of tweets describing what happened in the meeting and how Vijaya reacted then compared to her completely different reactions on Twitter.
 


“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,” she wrote in an article describing her experience of the meeting.
 
“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,” she said.
 
All the women attested to the fact that the picture was emailed to them by a Twitter employee who said that they were free to share it on their handles. This goes against the claims by Vijaya who said that the picture was private and shared without her knowledge.


 
“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,” she said.
 
“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,” she wrote.
 
Rituparna Chatterjee who was present at the meeting said that the event or the attendees were not there to attack Brahmins. “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,” she wrote.
 
“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,” she added.
 
Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has been at the receiving end of Twitter's tokenism too. Last year, Twitter had approached CJP to tweet using a special hashtag on World Human Rights Day on December 10. They said we were chosen because we were a human rights portal that addressed the concerns of a wide cross section of oppressed and marginalised communities, minorities and special interest groups in India. In exchange, they had assured us that our twitter handle and content will be promoted and promised to retweet our posts. However, no such thing happened, despite the fact that CJP created exclusive social media content which the entire team posted and shared extensively. This shows that Twitter was only interested in making their own hashtag trend and had no intention to promote the handles of people and organizations that helped them. We wonder if it was because CJP gives voice to some of the most marginalized people in the country and is a conscientious dissenter. If the fear of backlash for supporting a dissenting voice is what made Twitter renege on the arrangement, then it is truly unfortunate given how Twitter showcases itself as a free speech platform, but is driven by business, advertising and public relations concerns.




 
Full text of 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
 

Is Twitter’s tokenism when it comes to human rights surprising?

Washing their hands off of the controversy over #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and the company’s legal head, Vijaya Gadde, backtracked on the promises they made in the meeting. The women who attended reveal the hypocrisy.


Twitter
 
According to the women who attended the fateful closed-door meeting, Twitter’s tokenism when it comes to human rights was as clear as night and day. Washing their hands off of the controversy over #SmashBrahminicalPatriarchy, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and the company’s legal head, Vijaya Gadde, backtracked on the promises they made in the meeting. The women who attended revealed the hypocrisy.
 
Jack and Vijaya attended a meeting with a small group of women journalists and activists and the company has agreed to look into whether to include caste as a separate reporting category under its hateful conduct policy as per a mail sent to the participants of the meeting, reported The Indian Express.

Twitter
 
“Dorsey was photographed with the women holding a poster that read “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy” which led to controversy, after which Twitter India issued a statement on its commitment to being “apolitical”. However, the participants have confirmed that Dorsey had agreed to look into ways to include caste as a part of the company’s policy against ‘hateful conduct,” a report by Quint said.
 
According to a report in The Indian Express, an email was sent to the participants after the meet which read, “Abusing people on the basis of caste would be a type of intra-religious distinction. It would fall under our hateful conduct policies, prohibiting the targeting of people based on their membership in a religious group. However, based on the useful feedback Vijaya received on this trip, she is going to discuss with the team whether this should be called out more explicitly.”
 
Many of those who were present at the meeting found Vijaya’s conduct to be genuine and apologetic about how they had ignored caste bias on Twitter.
 
“In a statement issued by Anna MM Vetticad, Nilanjana S Roy, Rituparna Chatterjee, and Sanghapali Aruna, who were a part of the meeting, the participants said, “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,” the report said.
 
Vetticad shared images of their statement with support from NWMI and were angered by Twitter’s response by pinning the blame on the women who attended the meeting.



 
Barkha Dutt, a senior journalist, who was also a part of the meeting and the photo which caused a controversy wrote a series of tweets describing what happened in the meeting and how Vijaya reacted then compared to her completely different reactions on Twitter.
 


“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,” she wrote in an article describing her experience of the meeting.
 
“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,” she said.
 
All the women attested to the fact that the picture was emailed to them by a Twitter employee who said that they were free to share it on their handles. This goes against the claims by Vijaya who said that the picture was private and shared without her knowledge.


 
“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,” she said.
 
“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,” she wrote.
 
Rituparna Chatterjee who was present at the meeting said that the event or the attendees were not there to attack Brahmins. “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,” she wrote.
 
“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,” she added.
 
Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has been at the receiving end of Twitter's tokenism too. Last year, Twitter had approached CJP to tweet using a special hashtag on World Human Rights Day on December 10. They said we were chosen because we were a human rights portal that addressed the concerns of a wide cross section of oppressed and marginalised communities, minorities and special interest groups in India. In exchange, they had assured us that our twitter handle and content will be promoted and promised to retweet our posts. However, no such thing happened, despite the fact that CJP created exclusive social media content which the entire team posted and shared extensively. This shows that Twitter was only interested in making their own hashtag trend and had no intention to promote the handles of people and organizations that helped them. We wonder if it was because CJP gives voice to some of the most marginalized people in the country and is a conscientious dissenter. If the fear of backlash for supporting a dissenting voice is what made Twitter renege on the arrangement, then it is truly unfortunate given how Twitter showcases itself as a free speech platform, but is driven by business, advertising and public relations concerns.




 
Full text of 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
 

Related Articles

Dalit Bahujan Adivasi

Bihar Govt has worst record on Land Rights to Adivasis: Brinda Karat

Speaking at the release of a fact-finding report about the firing in Adhaura block, Brinda Karat exposed the deeds of the Bihar Govt while lauding the democratic struggle of the Kaimur’s Kharwar Adivasi communities against an oppressive forest department

Dalit Bahujan Adivasi

Bihar Govt has worst record on Land Rights to Adivasis: Brinda Karat

Speaking at the release of a fact-finding report about the firing in Adhaura block, Brinda Karat exposed the deeds of the Bihar Govt while lauding the democratic struggle of the Kaimur’s Kharwar Adivasi communities against an oppressive forest department


Wednesday

14

Oct

11 am onwards

Not an Inch Back!

Main Gate KG-Campus

Friday

09

Oct

Albert Ekka Chowk, Ranchi

Monday

05

Oct

Valluvarkottam, Chennai

Theme

Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.
Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020
hashimpura

Hashimpura Massacre

The Lemmings of Hashimpura
summer

Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine.

Campaigns

Wednesday

14

Oct

11 am onwards

Not an Inch Back!

Main Gate KG-Campus

Friday

09

Oct

04 pm onwards

#IStandWithStanSwamy

Albert Ekka Chowk, Ranchi

Monday

05

Oct

Valluvarkottam, Chennai

Videos

I dissent! How a photojournalist is fighting hate

Can one be apolitical in these times of communal divide, hate and bigotry? How does one fight religious and caste prejudice? Photojournalist Vijay Pandey asks important questions in this SabrangIndia exclusive series ‘I dissent! Artists who are taking on bigotry’

I dissent! How a photojournalist is fighting hate

Can one be apolitical in these times of communal divide, hate and bigotry? How does one fight religious and caste prejudice? Photojournalist Vijay Pandey asks important questions in this SabrangIndia exclusive series ‘I dissent! Artists who are taking on bigotry’

IN FACT

Analysis

Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.
Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020
hashimpura

Hashimpura Massacre

The Lemmings of Hashimpura
summer

Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine.

Archives