Top Twitter executives shocked by caste-based abuse on its platform in India: report

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and policy boss Vijaya Gadde appeared shocked and "blindsided" when Indian activists told them that caste-based abuse is endemic on the platform, BuzzFeed News reported, citing eight people present at the meeting.

The top Twitter executives met with prominent Indian intellectuals at a closed-door meeting in New Delhi last week.

ADVERTISEMENT

When the conversation turned to caste-based abuse, Gadde and Dorsey reportedly fumbled, seemingly unaware of the extent to which lower-caste individuals face discrimination and harassment on Twitter, the sources told BuzzFeed.

Gadde began to cry at one point, several of the sources said.

"Vijaya looked completely blindsided,” a source who attended the discussion told the news outlet. “It was like she had never realized that India has a caste-based social power structure.”

The Indian caste system has been deeply entrenched in the country for centuries, with Brahmins at the top of the social hierarchy and Dalits at the bottom.

People in the Dalit caste, previously referred to as the "untouchables," face rampant poverty, abuse and violence from those considered above them. The Dalit community has been subjected to rising levels of discriminatory violence over the past several years, The New York Times reported

A Dalit activist at the meeting shared stories of brutal harassment and hatred she and others in her community have faced on the platform. Gadde became emotional and told the group she felt "so stupid right now," sources told BuzzFeed. 

“Given [Gadde’s] role, and given how senior she is at Twitter, nobody expected her to be completely unprepared to talk about [caste],” another source who attended the meeting told BuzzFeed.

A Twitter spokesperson told the online outlet that Gadde's "emotional response" was due to "the extraordinary testimonies of the people we met" and not about "product features." 

"Twitter has a specific hateful conduct policy, with a dedicated reporting feature," the spokesperson said, adding that caste-based abuse would count under Twitter's rules against religious discrimination on the platform. 

Twitter's "hateful conduct" policy bars the promotion of "violence" or direct attacks on anyone on the basis of identity, including religious affiliation. However, Twitter has come under enormous fire for its harassment policies, with users, particularly women and minorities, claiming that the tech giant does not do enough to protect its users from rampant abuse and threats. 

The social media company is currently working on a "dehumanization" policy, which would bar content that attempts to undermine the humanity of others. 

“Our teams have been dealing with emergent challenges in India for many years and this meeting was a good-faith attempt by our senior leadership team to listen, learn, and think about how to improve our service,” the spokesperson told BuzzFeed. 

The meeting also sparked a round of controversy when Dorsey posed for a photo gifted to him by the Dalit activists that read "Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy."

Indian right-wing activists began to denounce Dorsey and Twitter for weighing in on the fraught Indian caste debate, claiming that he was inciting violence against members of the country's highest caste.

"After the meeting, some of the participants shared gifts with Jack and Vijaya and photos were taken," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. "The picture was taken at this moment in time, with Jack holding a gift he had just received (the poster)."

"The sentiments expressed on the poster do not reflect the views of Twitter as a company or Jack as the CEO, and we regret that this picture has detracted from an otherwise insightful trip to India," the spokesperson added.

Gadde in a Twitter apology said it was a "private photo."

Gadde's apology prompted four of the meetings attendees to release a public statement calling out Twitter, and Gadde in particular, for promoting "mistruths."

"The photo was clicked by a Twitter employee, it was mailed to us and we were told it could be shared," the women wrote. "It comes as a disappointment to all of us that ... in sharp contrast to her emotional, apologetic response at that private meeting, [Gadde] publicly distanced herself from Dalit and gender concerns."

"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," they added.

The Twitter spokesman in the statement to The Hill said Twitter is "proud" to be a platform where "marginalized voices" are represented but "we also have a public commitment to being impartial."