New Delhi: The summon by a parliamentary panel to microblogging platform Twitter Inc.’s chief executive officer (CEO) Jack Dorsey is a reminder of how the lack of strong local leadership can spell trouble for global social media platforms, which have the potential to shape the opinions of millions of users.
Much like its competitor Facebook’s messaging platform WhatsApp earlier, Twitter currently does not have a strong leadership in India. With no India head or communication representative in the country, Twitter is in a weak spot to deal with mounting pressure from the government to clean up their act before the Lok Sabha elections. Its current user base in India is around 35 million.
Mahima Kaul, Twitter India’s public policy head, has no legal authority to represent the platform before a parliamentary committee.
Twitter’s former country director for India, Taranjeet Singh, had resigned in September, 16 months after he was promoted to the position. Balaji Krish, who was Twitter’s global head of revenue strategy and operations, is acting as the interim country lead.
“I think social media platforms are used to express opinions, which has a lot of cultural and social aspects to it. Therefore, it is important to have local leadership, which understands the social fabric and local sensibilities and how to engage better with users," said Ankur Pahwa, partner and national leader, e-commerce and consumer internet, EY India. “Having said that, leadership alone is not going to decide the right and wrong opinions being expressed. There exist processes and systems, which are consistently applied to all geographies, but when something is sensitive locally, it requires appropriate localisation."
Twitter has recently been accused of bias against right-wing voices on the platform, including allegations that it is disproportionally suspending accounts espousing right-wing views in India. Not just political bias, Twitter has been in the eye of the storm over several issues around hate speech, fake news, fake profiles and the bots menace.
Last week, Colin Crowell, global vice-president, public policy at Twitter, in a blog post said: “The public conversation around Twitter’s policies and actions may be distorted by some who have a political agenda and this may be particularly acute during election cycles, when highly-charged political rhetoric becomes more common. We are committed to surfacing all sides of the conversation as we enter the election season in this extraordinarily diverse cultural, political and social climate."
In November, Twitter CEO Dorsey had made a maiden visit to poll-bound India to meet the senior leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, to better understand the opportunities.
The platform, which remains the hotbed of accounts spreading fake news, launched #PowerOf18 campaign to encourage youth to contribute to public debate and participate in civic engagement in the upcoming election season.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp has been in an image overdrive with the launch of a nationwide campaign, “Share Joy, Not Rumours", in more than 10 languages across television, print, online media and radio, to help prevent the spread of rumours and fake news.
The company faced severe criticism after lynching incidents flared up by free flow of fake news on the platform. Pressured by the Indian government, the American company appointed Abhijit Bose as the head of WhatsApp India. The messaging platform named Komal Lahiri as grievance officer for India in 2018.