“We’re committing Twitter to help increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation, and to hold ourselves publicly accountable towards progress” – says the pinned tweet of Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter Inc. It appears grand, socially sensitive and super cool. A giant social media platform ‘committed’ to ‘public conversation’ for the sake of ‘progress’? That’s just wow. Only, it’s not. Slow clap for Mr. Dorsey for coming out loud and clear – that Twitter is completely non-committal towards progress through any fair share of public conversation. If it did, Legal Policy and Safety Lead of Twitter India, Vijaya Gadde would not apologize (“Twitter strives to be an impartial platform for all. We failed to do that here and we must do better to serve our customers in India”) for Dorsey upholding the placard of #smashbrahmanicalpatriarchy in one of their recent promotional events in Delhi. While it is completely fair to promote your products and services because you are, well, here to sell, it’s childishly hypocritical to insist that you ‘care’ about what and how you go about your business.
Social media and so-called digital democracy is the ultimate façade beyond which the corporate has appropriated social concerns and public opinions. Consequently, it is only naïve to believe big corporations like Twitter as harbingers of social change. Tickling of human emotions is what advertising is all about and let’s face it, Dorsey just went by the rule book when he claimed that social media is for collective health and public conversations. Like a proverbial business person, he only worries about losing out on customers and would slip into the shoes of the majoritarian worldview very comfortably for ensuring that. So, there is very little digital democracy and social sensitivity in ‘social’ media.
Rather, more in the line of ‘market’ media, Twitter’s apology for accidentally standing up to brahmanical patriarchal onslaught in India reinforces its ignorance towards understanding the social (local) context in which its customers are situated. Echoing Uma Chakravarti’s essay published in Economic and Political Weekly way back in 1993, it is crucial to point out to Dorsey and alike that Indian ‘customers’ cannot be well understood, even from the interest of the market, unless one tries to decode the caste-gender nexus. Brahmanical Hindu caste system thrives and survives through hierarchy – by perpetuating violence and exploiting the lower castes. Concomitantly, caste Hindu society controls women’s sexuality by championing emphasized femininity (good women) and othering lower caste women (bad women). Same logic applies to lower caste men, other gender variants and the non-Hindus. In a word, caste Hindu system excludes, humiliates and exploits all humans excepting Hindu upper caste heterosexual male. But Indian population is not just about the Hindu upper caste heterosexual male, it is also about lower caste women, upper caste third gender, people from other religions and many other factions down the caste hierarchy subject to multiple exploitations of the brahmanical patriarchal system. Are they not ‘customer’s of Twitter? Don’t their voices count in ‘public conversation’ that Dorsey is so proud of? Also, in line with the conflict theory, caste is to India what race is to Global North. By apologizing for being momentarily anti-caste, is Dorsey trying to tell us that he is racist and believes in white supremacy? If Twitter is sensitive towards anti-race protests in the USA, why is it so critical of the anti-caste movements in India! Such biased social selection puts Twitter in an existential crisis since it was created to serve as a social media platform for discussions and debates – it is supposed to make a living by encouraging public discussions.
Standing at the cross road in India’s political history where a fascist government is systematically witch hunting on anybody voicing dissent (not in line with the government), Twitter’s apology for upholding the cause of a dalit woman activist in a public platform is pathetic. Not just it is socially insensitive and politically uninformed, it is also bad business. Imagine the kind of customer satisfaction Twitter could provide if Dorsey actually had the guts and the spine to stand up to brahmanical patriarchy and spread this (false, market-driven) promise out that Twitter actually cares for not just the privileged but everybody else too! But Dorsey and his company are visibly scared of Hindu Nazi trolls only they have created.
Amrita is a PhD in Sociology from JNU, New Delhi, India. Presently, she is a researcher at University of Cologne, Germany. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org