Elon Musk wasted no time cleaning house at Twitter. In his first day on the job after acquiring the social media giant, Musk fired numerous executives, including CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, and General Counsel Sean Edgett.
One exec, however, Vijaya Gadde, who was head of Twitter’s legal policy, trust, and safety, was also fired yesterday but for several reasons that date back years.
Gadde, an immigrant from India who moved to the U.S. as a child in the 1970’s, became an attorney, and joined Twitter in 2011, becoming general counsel in 2013 at a time when Twitter was not nearly as controversial as it has recently become. In fact, a Twitter motto then, which was repeated by employees as well as then CEO Dick Costolo, and sounds more like Elon Musk’s desired motto for the company now, was, “Twitter is the free speech wing of the free speech party.”
Oh my, how things have changed.
Since those free speech days, Twitter has become much more popular and many users have taken advantage of the free speech platform by using it, unfortunately, for declarations of hatred. Thus, Gadde’s job became increasingly more challenging, resulting in numerous difficult decisions that she’s been forced to defend.
Many of those decisions resulted in suspensions or outright bans of political figures, including controversial right wingers Milo Yiannolopoulos in 2016 and Alex Jones in 2018. Obviously, Twitter was no longer the land of free speech as they realized that allowing hateful commentary — or in the case of Milo, personal insults — was not ideal.
For years, users called on the ban of then-President Donald Trump, but Twitter refused to do so even when, in 2017, Trump made what seemed to be a declaration of war against North Korea. Twitter defended their inaction, claiming that their policy allows for “newsworthiness” for the sake of public interest, but this only showcased their tendency to select whichever policy they have that defends their actions, or lack thereof, rather than applying all rules to all users at all times. Whereas some lesser-known users have been banned for things that other lesser-known users are not even suspended for, the platform appeared to adapt a motto more akin to “free speech but with exceptions for some.”
Twitter ultimately did ban Trump years later, after Trump supporters stormed the capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, though some speculate that Trump’s use of Twitter leading up to that point helped rile up those supporters and thus such an event could’ve been prevented.
However, before and after the Trump ban, Twitter has been often accused of bias, enforcing certain policies only when they want to. Vijaya Gadde didn’t help herself when she referred to claims of bias simply as “background noise.” She further explained, “No matter what we do we’ve been accused of bias.”
Do those accusations of bias have merit?
In 2019, Vijaya Gadde and Jack Dorsey sat down for a lengthy interview as guests of the Joe Rogan Podcast. Her appearance caused some to conclude that she simply didn’t have definite answers to many of the questions, ultimately deflecting to generic responses, though her professionalism was clearly on display thanks to the the interview being a more than 3-hour discussion as opposed to a debate.
To understand how many people on Gadde’s teams make the decisions as to which tweets violate twitter policy, Joe Rogan asked her, “How many posts do you guys get a day?”
Gadde answered, “Hundreds of millions of posts a day.”
Rogan followed up, “How many human beings are manually reviewing these things?”
Gadde responded, “I don’t have that number. A lot.”
Jack Dorsey, to Rogan’s surprise, explained that Twitter only has about 4,000 employees, but that they also will temporarily hire outside contractors in cases where they need to review tweets, though how many are used for that purpose is still a mystery. Rogan went on to explain the numerous hateful tweets that are still on Twitter, to which Dorsey and Gadde simply reponded that they will have to look into it.
Perhaps the best example of bias, which has been called out even by Twitter themselves, was Gadde’s decision in 2020 to suspend the account of the New York Post for running a story about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, and his ever-controversial laptop, a story that most people on both sides of the political aisle do not actually deny is true. Gadde decided it was untrue, and even said that the Post would not be unsuspended until they take down their tweet, which links to the story. The Post refused.
Gadde then decided to further block users from sharing the story at all on the platform, effectively restricting every Twitter user’s freedom. Gadde’s decision was heavily criticized, and caused many to wonder why Twitter’s “newsworthiness” policy, which they implemented as their excuse not to ban Trump in 2017, was suddenly ignored. The presidential election was also a month away, so many onlookers suggested that this it was a calculated move to ban content that may reflect poorly on Democrat nominee Joe Biden.
The standoff lasted for over two weeks until Gadde changed her position, citing significant feedback, and blamed Twitter policy for the confusion. CEO Jack Dorsey later said that blocking the New York Post was wrong. All of this happened just two days after Dorsey appeared before the Senate via video conference and received harsh criticism for his company’s decision-making.
Priyanka Deo, a political commentator and journalist from India who, amongst other things, runs multiple popular social media accounts, responded to the New York Post ban by pointing out, “The Wall Street Journal flat out lied about interviewing the brother of an officer who was shot during the Delhi riots. This is not just unethical journalism but flat out lying.” Deo goes on to give multiple examples of mainstream publications who have intentionally lied, sometimes just for clicks, claiming that Twitter’s suspension of the New York Post clearly showed Gadde’s hypocrisy.
Elon Musk was also taking notice.
Already critical of what Musk saw as Twitter’s actions against free speech, which apparently proved the motivating factor for his purchase of Twitter, the richest man in the world finally moved forward with the purchase in April of this year. At that time, Politico reported that Vijaya Gadde did not take the news well, breaking down in a company meeting with three different sources saying that she was crying about what it meant that Musk was taking over, and that she saw her future with the company as dim. She also told her staff that they have at least six months before Musk is in charge, suggesting it was their last six months working together.
It was certainly one thing that everyone can agree Vijaya Gadde was right about.
Elon Musk responded to the Politico story by more or less confirming that he wasn’t happy with Gadde’s decisions. In referencing her actions to suspend the New York Post‘s account, Musk tweeted, “Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.”
Perhaps Priyanka Deo said it best. “Most likely these jobs would’ve been absolutely safe had Vijaya and her team upheld free speech fairly at Twitter. It’s fine to have an ideology but you need to be objective at work.”