Twitter, the social media platform used extensively by politicians, industrialists and celebrities, had a moment of reckoning in India as the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment finally unleashed itself on India’s most powerful. This is as per a report by the Economic Times.
Will this bring any redemption for Twitter? The platform has been severely criticised for not doing enough to clamp down on hate speech, especially violent threats against women. Since such abuses and threats come in different regional languages and dialects, it is difficult for content moderators to crack down on them.
To some extent, many say, Twitter deserves credit for progressive social movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, which have flourished on — and largely thanks to — its technology platform. Twitter was where the discussion gained momentum, where women’s outrage and anger coalesced into something stronger.
Until now, more than 100 men have been accused on the platform in India. Many have resigned amid investigations and backlash.
“Twitter, among all the social media tools is closest to be like journalism. That perhaps is the reason why it is used to create noise, trend, pressure…and also as an advocacy tool,” said Osama Manzar, founder of Digital Empowerment Foundation. “While one has observed that Twitter has been used to spread hate speech, misinformation and disinformation, it has also been used as an alternative voice.”
It’s an open platform, unlike Facebook and Instagram that are more private in nature. An email sent to Twitter seeking comment did not elicit a response as of press time on Sunday.
The #MeToo movement has gathered steam over the last fortnight with scores of women speaking out on sexual harassment at workplace and support pouring in from various quarters.
It started when 24-year-old law student Raya Sarkar crowdsourced a list accusing more than 50 Indian professors of sexual harassment.
“I feel #MeToo and #TimesUp balance the perception for Twitter to some extent, by being a positive force of change, away from the negative impact it was seen as perpetuating earlier,” said Karthik Srinivasan, former national lead, social, at Ogilvy. “The fact that almost every mainstream media story on #MeToo started from Twitter, Twitter is as ugly or as beautiful as its users.”
Twitter ran an ad during the Oscar broadcast, celebrating women with the hashtag #HereWeAre. It featured poet Denice Frohman reciting her verse: “I heard a woman becomes herself the first time she speaks without permission…”
Harish Bijoor, a brand consultant, feels that #MeToo is an opportunity for Twitter to clean up hate speech on its platform. “Twitter is a spit and run medium,” he said. “Advertisers are not too kicked about Twitter as monetisation is poor. Advertisers worry about hate speech because they don’t want their ad coming next to hateful content. They prefer clean mediums.”
Brian Wieser, a senior analyst at Pivotal Research, believes that while Twitter has a trolling problem, which could possibly be worse in non-English languages, advertising associations with the platform aren’t getting affected either due to trolling for social campaigns.
“Advertisers don’t want harassment on Twitter but they won’t pull out because of it,” Wieser said. “A lack of focus on India hasn’t helped the problem of trolling for Twitter. It is either mismanagement or ignorance. Not intentional.” Twitter is estimated to have 30-33 million monthly active users in India versus Facebook’s 270 million. Twitter does not disclose metrics officially.