How Vijaya Gadde is changing Twitter

Her bold moves that could set more precedents for the constantly badgered technology industry to follow.
Neha Alawadhi reports.

Known for several of microblogging platform Twitter’s most contentious and bold decisions, including withdrawing political advertising completely and later banning ex-US president Donald Trump permanently from the platform, Vijaya Gadde may not be a household name yet, but the 47-year-old general counsel of Twitter is a force to reckon with.

Straightforward and spirited, the Indian-origin Gadde keeps a low profile but is known to be a person with firm ideas and clarity of thought when she is talking about Twitter’s guiding principles and taking a stand.

What sets Twitter apart from other social media and big technology firms at present is that the platform has not shied away from taking politically sensitive decisions and sticking by them. Many of these have been driven by Gadde.

In a conversation at her alma mater the New York University Law School in 2017, from which she graduated in 2000, Gadde said she was always sure she wanted to be a lawyer, inspired by one of her aunts in India who was one of India’s first women lawyers.

At the NYU talk, she spoke about how the desire to be a lawyer was rooted in some of her family’s early experiences in the United States.

Hyderabad-born Gadde spoke of her parents and her immigrating to the US in the 970s and staying in a small town in Texas. Her father, who had a master’s degree couldn’t get work, so he got a job selling insurance and collecting premiums door to door.

Given the prejudices against non-whites in that particular part of the US, her father had to go to the local leader of the white supremacist hate group the Ku Klux Klan and ask permission to be able to keep his job.

‘It’s a reminder to me in my life of how far things have come and yet how far we still have to go in our society when it comes to these matters,’ she said at the talk.

Known for being liberal-leaning, in a profile of hers last year, Politico magazine described Gadde as being ‘known within the company for being close to the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey during Twitter’s highest-stakes moments.’

‘When Dorsey met with Donald Trump in 2019, Gadde was in the Oval Office with them. She was at Dorsey’s side to meet the Dalai Lama in India. She’s accompanied him to Washington to speak with legislators and meet journalists. Inside Twitter’s headquarters, Gadde and Dorsey work from spaces next door to each other.’

In the recent pushback from Twitter against Indian authorities’ demands to remove problematic tweets following the farmers’ protests, containing the word ‘genocide’, Gadde was in the know and involved at multiple stages of the decision.

According to a person aware of Gadde’s ways of working, she is an ‘engaged, empathetic leader, and enjoys a lot of trust among them.’

She was named among Time magazine’s list of 100 emerging leaders in February. ‘While Twitter is still home to much misinformation and harassment, Gadde’s influence is slowly turning the company into one that sees free speech not as sacrosanct — but as just one human right among many that need to be weighed against one another,’ the magazine said.

Gadde serves on the board of trustees of the New York University Law School and the board of directors of Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian aid and development organisation, which partners with communities, corporations, and governments.

She is also a co-founder of #Angels, an investment collective focused on funding diverse and ambitious founders pursuing bold ideas.

Her passion for the work she does is evident in the way she talks. At a Recode conference in 2019 with tech journalist Kara Swisher, for example, Gadde was asked about a meeting she and Dorsey had with then Trump.

Gadde said Dorsey and Trump spoke about keeping the civility of conversations on Twitter intact. When asked about how she kept a straight face in that conversation given that Trump was known for his often reckless tweets, Gadde laughed and said, ‘I am excellent at straight faces’, and quickly went on to add why she believed it was important for Dorsey to bring up the subject in the meeting.

As Twitter emerges as being very different from other social media platforms in the way it is shaping its policies, Gadde will be a name to watch out for.

Not least because she is a woman leader, but because of her bold moves that could set more precedents for the constantly badgered technology industry to follow.

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