Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s first trip to India has been memorable, but not for all the right reasons. He’s been receiving much criticism for posing with a poster many Indians find offensive and have been accused of ‘hate speech’ by some.
Twitter user Anna Vetticad tweeted a photograph of Dorsey holding up a poster reading ‘smash Brahminical patriarchy,’ a reference to the highest caste — or social group — in Hindu society. The group picture was taken following a roundtable discussion with Indian women journalists and activists, and it drew Dorsey into a hugely sensitive issue about power structures in Indian society.
Tensions between higher castes like Brahmins and lower-caste Dalits — a community of people once known as the untouchables — have been escalating in recent years. Activists say the rise of Hindu nationalism under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has increased the oppression of lower castes.
Recently we hosted a closed door discussion with a group of women journalists and change makers from India to better understand their experience using Twitter. One of the participants, a Dalit activist, shared her personal experiences and gifted a poster to Jack. https://t.co/96gd3XmFgK— Twitter India (@TwitterIndia) November 19, 2018
A Twitter spokeswoman mentioned on Tuesday that the poster was a gift to Dorsey by a Dalit woman who participated in the roundtable discussion.
‘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,’ she said.
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.— Twitter India (@TwitterIndia) November 19, 2018
Dorsey spent a week in India earlier this month, his first trip to the country after what he said was a ‘lifetime of wanting to experience it.’ His visit included meetings with the Dalai Lama and Modi, who has over 44 million Twitter followers.
India is a hugely important market for Twitter (TWTR) and other tech giants, with more internet users than any country other than China and nearly 900 million people that are yet to come online.
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Twitter’s legal and public policy head Vijaya Gadde, who was also at the roundtable, later apologized individually to several users.
‘I’m very sorry for this,’ Gadde said, adding that the poster did not reflect the company’s 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.’
But Vetticad, who first tweeted the photograph, said it was taken by a Twitter representative and emailed to participants to share if they wished.
Many users also slammed Twitter’s statement and Gadde’s apology, saying the company should take a stance against the ‘oppressive’ caste system and patriarchy.
Sad to see a lack of awareness & concern about caste issues in your tweet, @vijaya. On a separate note, this was not a "private photo" – it was shot by a @TwitterIndia rep & mailed to us to share if we wish. You are throwing us under the bus to save your skin. Unbelievable! @jack https://t.co/zZ9StvsbLb— Anna MM Vetticad (@annavetticad) November 20, 2018
One person tweeted his reactions to Twitter’s apology saying, ‘Twitter wimps out. Pathetic. They ought to be ashamed.’
Twitter wimps out. Pathetic. They ought to be ashamed https://t.co/dUIvE80yNf— Mihir Sharma (@mihirssharma) November 20, 2018
‘Terribly disappointing st. on behalf of Twitter. Both Brahminism & patriarchy are oppressive by nature, so why would Twitter’s views not reflect giving space to marginalized voices? Calling pandering “impartial” is just a cop-out preventing actual efforts to make this space equal’
Terribly disappointing st. on behalf of Twitter. Both Brahminism & patriarchy are oppressive by nature, so why would Twitter's views not reflect giving space to marginalized voices? Calling pandering "impartial" is just a cop out preventing actual efforts to make this space equal— Sandhya Ramesh (@sandygrains) November 20, 2018
Some Indians thought the ire the post had created was exaggerated and really only offensive to the patriarchy and other oppressive institutions in India. They compared the post to the Twitter CEO holding an ‘end racism’ or ‘stop rape’ post
Right wing outrages without academic knowledge. To outrage against @Jack because he supported Smash Brahminical Patriarchy is like outraging against someone who said "end racism" or "stop rape". It is a concept, a feminist call for decades. pls read https://t.co/IjeMJnGC3j pic.twitter.com/KhDvw2VOwX— Sanjukta Basu (@sanjukta) November 19, 2018
Another user said; ‘I suppose for some on Twitter, ‘white privilege’ will be considered racist next.’
The Twitter spokeswoman defended the company’s response.
‘We are proud of the fact that Twitter is a platform where marginalized voices can be seen and heard, but we also have a public commitment to being apolitical,’ she said. ‘We realize that this photo may not accurately represent that commitment.’