Using US polls insights to prepare for India elections, says Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey
Last month, Amazon founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, called the Internet, “a confirmation bias machine” to describe the worrisome state of social media. This year, Twitter has come under scrutiny for having a left leaning bias in the United States. To address this contentious issue, Jack Dorsey (41), co-founder and chief executive at Twitter, said the company needs to operate with impartiality and be transparent. During his first visit to India, he said the country would be the next big growth frontier for Twitter. In an interview to Hindustan Times, Dorsey also shared Twitter’s plans for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and tackling fake news. Edited Excerpts:
It’s been 12 years since you started Twitter. What took you so long to come to India?
I have always wanted to come here. In our early days, we were just focused on building. We were also going down all the time so we had to stay next to the machine. So, we didn’t have a lot of time to travel.
In the US, conservatives have alleged Twitter has a left-leaning bias. We are witnessing a similar phenomenon in India with Hindu right-wing users. Your views?
We need to operate with impartiality. Not neutrality but impartiality and there is a difference between the two. Neutrality is very passive; impartiality means that we are taking actions and writing policy that does not have a particular bias or doesn’t favour one person over another for the wrong reasons. We write our policies and we write our enforcement with that in mind. Anytime we feel that we have failed, we admit it publicly and then we correct it. The most important thing we can do is be transparent.
Can we expect Twitter to specify why it removes people from the service?
That was lacking in the past. We weren’t transparent around the reason why? We are getting better at that today.
How is Twitter preparing for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections?
With India we are looking at a lot more language support. We are mainly learning from what happened in the 2016 US elections, the Mexico elections and the 2018 midterm elections. We’ve built models to identify where people are trying to game the system. A lot of misinformation falls in the tactics of spam. So all the spam tools can actually be effective. There are two main things that we have learnt from in terms of the recent elections that we could apply to elections around the world including India. We opened a focus room to make sure that we are seeing in real time everything that’s happening and we have one streamlined point of contact for government agencies to point out what we should be paying attention to or vice versa. The second is around context, so how can we provide more context to people to determine credibility. The election badges that we used in the United States are an example.
Will these come to India?
We are considering it, we are evaluating what is best for this particular election. Every election is different and we’ll require different approaches so we’re going to learn what is going to be most effective.
A recent global study published in October 2018 found that interactions with fake news stories fell sharply on Facebook while they continued to rise on Twitter. Does this mean Twitter is not doing enough to address fake news?
They can only sample data so they don’t see the full set of tweets that we see. Twitter is a platform people use to get their news and see what’s happening in the world. Facebook announced a shift in another direction which is around personal interactions, not news. It would certainly not be a leap to consider if you remove most news from the feed that all the numbers are going to go down. Its apples and oranges, really hard comparison.
From a monetisation perspective, Twitter hasn’t achieved as much growth in advertising revenue in India compared to other platforms. Digital advertising continues to be dominated by Facebook and Google. Why do brands prefer them?
People come to Twitter for very different reasons . They advertise on Facebook and Instagram with a very different mindset than they do on Twitter. On Twitter, increasingly they know that the power of what we provide is conversation. You can’t have that anywhere else. With that mind set we are doing quite well. If you compare us to everything else, we could look small. But we’ve had a year of peak revenue for India since we started monetisation here and there is a lot of headroom for growth.
You’ve met two key political leaders in the country, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. What are the ideas they have shared?
The conversations were very Twitter focused. Prime Minister Modi in particular gave a lot of ideas around how we might help create one global conversation. He’s done this himself on World Environment Day and just gave me a bunch of examples of where it has worked for him, where it’s worked for India but also where it’s worked more broadly. He has the hope that Twitter and people using Twitter could be used as a way to bring the entire world into a conversation. That was excellent to hear. Both are very thoughtful leaders.