When someone on Twitter disagrees with the network’s content rules or policies, they almost always resort to the same strategy: they send a tweet to Jack Dorsey — the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter. But the name responsible for creating and enforcing the rules of the social network is another: Vijaya Gabdde, director of policies and legal certainty at the company.
Gadde is “the most powerful tech executive you’ve never heard of,” describes Politico. In 2014, she was featured by Fortune as the most powerful woman on Twitter’s executive team. InStyle magazine included her in “The Badass 50”, an annual list of women who change the world. “Vijaya defines the word,” tweeted Twitter marketing director Leslie Berland.
Among other milestones in his career, Gadde managed to ban political ads on the platform and led the banning of former President Donald Trump after the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
But the tide may have turned.
With the acquisition of the company by Elon Musk, a notorious critic of moderation on social media, Gadde’s permanence in the job is still anyone’s guess. The two even had some disagreements, when the South African billionaire was still just a user on the platform.
The scuffle with Musk
Gadde faced a wave of criticism in 2020 after Twitter blocked the sharing of a New York Post article about Hunter Biden, the son of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. The allegation was that the source of the report was not reliable, and therefore the content could be considered disinformation.
“No matter what we do, we’ve been accused of bias,” she told Bloomberg News at the time. “Leave content, remove content — it’s become a permanent noise.”
The subject came up again last Tuesday (26), when Musk responded to podcaster Saagar Enjeti on the social network. Enjeti called Gadde “the biggest advocate of censorship on Twitter” and recalled that she had “censored the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop”.
Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 26, 2022
Musk responded that “suspending a major news organization’s Twitter account for publishing a true story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.”
The comment reignited rumors that if the takeover of Twitter is approved by US authorities, Musk will not keep the executive in office.
Shortly after the announcement that Twitter had accepted Musk’s proposal last Monday (25), Gadde convened a virtual meeting with his political and legal teams. According to Politico, she would have recognized that there are great uncertainties about how the company will be under the billionaire’s leadership.
Several media outlets claimed that Gadde was moved to tears during the meeting. Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy limited himself to saying that Gadde was moved to discuss the impact of her team and the pride she feels in them.
“I think everyone on Twitter, regardless of how they feel about the news, is feeling reflective and emotional,” a Twitter employee told Politico.
“We’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years and it’s generated a lot of reflection. I think it was more of an acknowledgment of the uncertainty that everyone is feeling right now.”
finding your voice
Vijaya Gabbe was born in India and moved to the United States at the age of three. A graduate of Cornell University and New York University School of Law, Gadde spent nearly a decade at a Silicon Valley law firm working with tech startups before joining the social media company in 2011.
Back then, the internet was a different place. Many politicians were still just getting to grips with the platform. Trump used his Twitter to share ads about his TV appearances. The official presidential account, @POTUS, would not exist until 2015, under President Barack Obama.
When Gadde took over as general counsel in 2013, the social media service had a no-holds-barred mindset. A year earlier, one of Twitter’s UK product managers said that Twitter saw itself as “the free speech wing of the free speech party”, a label later repeated by then-CEO Dick Costolo.
“I think that’s what drew me to Twitter — this platform that gives you a voice, gives you a community and gives you power,” he said in an interview with Fortune. “I was the only Indian child for most of my education until I went to college. You feel voiceless.”
Gadde versus Trump
Gadde is seen internally as the “moral authority” of Twitter and the one in charge of dealing with sensitive issues such as bullying and harassment.
Under his leadership, policies against hate speech, disinformation and even political publicity were carefully crafted. For this, Twitter hired a team of researchers to study the health of speech on the social network.
But as Twitter’s role in global politics has grown, so has Gadde’s visibility.
Perhaps no user has had a harder time moderating content for Gadde and his team than Trump. During the period in which he was present on the social network, the former user of the platform was responsible for tweets that often went beyond the rules of the community.
Trump’s tweets were a frequent topic of conversation among employees, and Gadde’s position meant she had the unique job of punishing the world’s most famous user – as, in fact, she did.
“My team has a responsibility to do this with every individual who uses Twitter, whether it’s the president of a country, an activist, or someone we don’t know,” she said. “I honestly do my best to treat everyone with the same degree of respect.”
Gadde also led the creation of the flags that are included in tweets considered “misleading”, with a “learn more” link referring to more detailed information about the commented subject.
According to her, it was a way of publicly informing that the user violates the rules, but at the same time acknowledging that what was said is too relevant to be taken down. “It’s preserving a record of what is said in the public interest,” explained Gadde.
While nothing is set in stone, Gadde at least has the apparent support of his team. Several employees took advantage of the moment of instability to reinforce the value of the executive.
“If you look up the word ‘inspirational’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of @vijaya,” tweeted senior public policy associate Kennedy O’Brien.
If you look up the word “inspiring” in the dictionary you find a picture of @vijaya 💙
— Kennedy O’Brien (@kennedy798) April 25, 2022
“Grateful as always for your leadership @vijaya – couldn’t be luckier,” tweeted Camino Rojo, Spain’s head of public policy, government and philanthropy on Twitter.