Dear Jack Dorsey,
Welcome to India! I am given to understand that you are in this gorgeous, mesmerizing and pleasantly chaotic land for a town hall meeting at IIT-Delhi, one of our premier educational institutions. While here, you also met with the Dalai Lama, a man of unwavering faith and love for his land and people.
You mentioned in your tweet that you are here to ‘experience it all’. Let me tell you what you can expect to witness in India.
We are a strange yet captivating bunch of people. You might stop at a chai shanty and overhear 5 friends arguing vociferously about some political issue that might not even affect their lives directly. While it may appear as their heated argument would invariably end their presumed friendship, in a few moments, you would see them share a sutta and talk about something completely different.. all smiles.
You will hear tales of violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims, but while you drive through the by-lanes of this great land, you will notice Hindus and Muslims live as family members, who have their share of troubles, but a family nonetheless.
We are basically a potpourri of ideas, beliefs, faiths, ideologies, views, feelings, emotions, and every human element that the English language can possibly define. We fight, we argue, we hate, we love, we survive.
In India, we are used to diametrically opposing views. Sometimes, we sort it out. Often, we don’t. But either way, we survive our differences whether we like it or not.
With the internet revolution, our astronomically diverse culture has spilt over to your platform. Twitter. As you have admitted in the past, Twitter employees are left-leaning and that is perfectly alright, considering even your employees have the right to their political ideology. However, in India as elsewhere in the world, there is a growing sense of discomfort with freedom of speech being selectively curbed.
We have repeatedly watched in agony as some handles with diverse political views, mostly right-leaning have been suspended willy-nilly for the most asinine reasons. We have watched with disappointment as some genuine abuse was ignored only because it came from the people who perhaps conform ideologically to Twitter’s inherent bias. We have watched as several accounts are ‘shadow-banned’ where the reach of their voice is curbed.
Twitter, I would assume was meant to be a platform for the exchange of ideas and not just a microblogging website where homogenous views survive in an echo chamber. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
If the platform you and your team nurtured is meant to be a platform that furthers only the left ideology, there is absolutely no harm. What is problematic, however, is Twitter espousing a particular ideology while wearing the cloak of neutrality. Personally, I believe freedom of expression has limits. Limits that, in India, are imposed by our Constitution itself. And because I believe in the limits to freedom of expression, I would never aspire to create or run a platform like Twitter.
Anyone who believes that freedom of expression must be curbed based on the morality and confirmation bias of the CEO and his team is not fit to run a platform like Twitter, considering, Twitter has positioned itself as a neutral microblogging website for everyone, with no bias at all. While abuse must be curbed, branding divergence of views as abuse merely to target ideological opponents is dictatorial at best, fascism at worst.
Any public opinion platform has to try extremely hard to not impose their own value and moral structure on the people who use that platform. And Twitter seems to be failing miserably at it. The left-leaning might believe that the Islamists of yonder were fuzzy little teddy bears. But for a historically aware Hindu of India, who knows about the brute force that the Islamist rulers used to kill, rape, maim and convert their ancestors, that might not be the case. Is it acceptable for Twitter to impose its employee’s belief system on to a user of the platform? Even with the Saudi money, a semblance of thought neutrality would be expected out of Twitter.
I could give you specific examples, Jack, but at this point, it seems futile since Twitter itself is full of such examples from across the globe.
While in India, I would urge you to soak in the beauty of disagreement. The glory of tark-vitark (argument-counterargument). Soak in the art of vehement disagreement but more or less peaceful co-existence. We just celebrated Diwali where we worship the triumph of good over evil. Beyond our Gods and Goddesses, this festival is also about overcoming one’s own demons to gather the courage and do what’s right.
When in India, Jack, you must indeed ‘experience it all’. And experience the virtue of diversity and co-existence, you must, because God knows, you need it. You need it because you have assigned yourself as the moral guardian of the users of your platform and taken it upon yourself to decide what is good speech and bad speech. You need it because you have imposed the worst form of thought control over people.
You need it because a platform like Twitter has reduced freedom of expression to a joke. You need it because while appointing yourself the left-liberal guardian of the universe, you have pocketed Saudi money that pretty much shatters every tenet that your platform pretends to stand for. You need it because I, as a right-leaning journalist, and many like me all over the globe believe that we run the risk of our voice being curbed simply because we don’t conform to your worldview. You must either declare that Twitter is only a left-leaning echo chamber or give us our right to voice our opinions back. No strings attached.
A large chunk of this nation doesn’t agree with you and Twitter’s Left bias. If we were like Twitter, Jack, we would have blocked or shadow banned you on arrival. We didn’t. Perhaps that’s the lesson you can carry with you.
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017