But there’s a twist. There is one at Twitter who takes action while Dorsey mans the monastery. She is Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former general counsel, and now head of legal, policy, and trust and safety issues. At 46, Gadde wields so much influence at Twitter that she terrified the gnarly crowd at the late wingnut social platform Parler. One Parlerite called her “Goebbels in a pantsuit.” Another warned, “You don’t know her face or name because she rules in the shadows.”
Off the mark, of course. Unlike Dorsey, Gadde is famously non-shadowy and forthright. Born in India, she grew up in Southeast Texas when it was still studded with sundown towns, which shut out people of color with threats, violence, and racist statutes. When her father, a jobless chemical engineer, found work knocking on doors to collect insurance premiums, he had to seek permission from no less than the local Ku Klux Klan leader to walk in his own neighborhood. “My family felt very powerless in those moments,” Gadde said in 2016, when she was honored at NYU School of Law, from which she graduated in 2000. “When people ask me why I went to law school—I went to law school to make sure that people have a voice and that people have someone to fight for them.” She now sits on the board of Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian group and NGO that is currently working to provide emergency supplies to especially vulnerable families and communities during the Covid-19 crisis.
Gadde’s earnest moral commitments at Twitter might be explained in part by timing. She joined Twitter not at its start as a group-text goof by Dorsey and his crew in 2006, but in 2011, one decade ago, when it moved to center stage as a communication nexus for the so-called Arab Spring. Where most current social media leaders had no idea what they were getting into in the lighter-hearted days of Web 2.0, Gadde instantly saw the seriousness of the endeavor. She could see Twitter’s activist possibilities, as well as its exploitation by those looking to stoke disinformation and racist speech. Above all, as she rose in the ranks, she gained Dorsey’s druid ear. As one Twitter official told Politico, “I can’t imagine a world where Jack looks at [Gadde] and says, ‘No.’”
In fairness, digging in and impeding change is not Dorsey’s thing, so Twitter may for the foreseeable future be synced to the clear-eyed moral vision of Gadde, whose Twitter feed, @vijaya, is focused more on Amanda Gorman’s poetry and public health infrastructure than on Bitcoin, a topic that preoccupies @jack.
And while Gadde tweets without reservation about human rights initiatives and progressive projects she admires, and brooks right-wing trolls, the CEO of Twitter continues to be singularly ill-suited to the world of barbs and quips he helped create. He openly prefers the otherworldly interconnectiveness of the service to the tweets that serve as its component parts. When Dorsey reflects on the dynamic of tweeting in interviews, he still hearkens back to the heady early days, when it was “amazing” to be able to tell friends all at once, by making phones buzz in their pockets, that you were headed to a yoga class.
When he had to show up to thread about the Trump ban on January 13, though, he showed up as himself. He expressed his uncertainty, spoke with little ego, and made it clear he was just another human, improvising on insufficient data, hoping to promote both peace and openness in a world where those values are sometimes at odds. However much Twitter might urge him to play oracle, @jack will refuse. The last sentence of the thread’s intro tweet would make an excellent epitaph and an excellent koan: “Was this correct?”
This article appears in the March issue. Subscribe now.
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