What To Ask Jack?
2018 was the year social media executives took the hot seat. Executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google appeared in front of the US Congress for gruelling sessions. They were held answerable for a number of issues surrounding social media, including Russian election interference, political bias and user privacy concerns.
2019 is not offering any respite.
On February 5 an Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, led by BJP MP Anurag Thakur, summoned the Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for a hearing scheduled on February 11. This came after two weeks of strong protests by right-wing activists accusing the company of political bias. Executives from the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters did not appear citing a “short notice”, and instead published a separate blog post addressing the issue. This did not bode well with the committee, but the hearing has been rescheduled to February 25.
The issues plaguing Twitter in India are not different than those they face in the US, or any other country for that matter. Here are the most pressing issues, along with measures taken by Twitter to address them and suggestions for the Standing Committee on what to ask CEO Jack. While this article focuses on Twitter, most of these issues apply to all the social media platforms. It is surprising that the Standing Committee did not summon executives from Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp and has a far greater number of users.
My rundown is based on Jack’s Congressional appearances in September 2018, his interviews with NYU professor Jay Rosen and Concordia University professor Gad Saad, his podcasts with Joe Rogan and Sam Harris, and his Twitter exchange with business technology journalist Kara Swisher.
The first issue that the Standing Committee will address is political bias. The accusations against Twitter are that tweets by right-wing users are censored or hidden, an act defined as shadow banning, and that right-wing users are more likely to have their account suspended.
There are reasons why right-wing users might feel this way. Because Twitter does rank tweets and replies, but not based on political factors…