India-born Parag Agrawal, who until Sunday was the chief technology officer at Twitter, has succeeded co-founder as the chief executive officer of the giant. But what led to the exit of Dorsey? And what are the challenges facing Agrawal in his new role?

In September last year, some users had pointed out that the platform’s photo previews favoured white faces to black. They posted photos with a black person’s face and a white person’s face adjacent to each other. Twitter’s photo preview showed the white faces more often.

There were allegations of a racial bias in the neural network the company used to generate photo previews.

Twitter’s new CEO, Agrawal, who was then the chief technology officer (CTO), had taken stock of the situation and admitted that the model needed “continuous improvement”.

Agrawal was also tasked with addressing one of the company’s biggest challenges in recent times – content moderation. Around this time last year, Twitter had labelled some tweets by former US President Donald Trump as “misleading” and “violent”.

As Agrawal had said in an interview with MIT Technology Review in November last year, Twitter focused on mitigating the harm that arose from certain content being amplified on the platform without proper context. It worked less on being the arbiter of truth on the internet.

“We focus way more on potential for harm as a result of certain content being amplified on the platform without appropriate context. And context is often just additional conversation that provides a different point of view on a topic so that people can see the breadth of the conversation on our platform and outside and make their own determinations in a world where we’re all learning together,” Agrawal had said.

At 37, Agrawal, who took charge as the new Twitter CEO on Monday, is the youngest CEO leading a Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 company. A 2005 computer science and engineering alumnus of IIT Bombay, Agrawal had later gone on to pursue his PhD in computer science from Stanford University. He joined Twitter in 2011 with a focus on ad products, and became the first recipient of the company’s “Distinguished Engineer” title.

According to several media reports, as CTO, Agrawal encouraged Dorsey to allow Twitter to explore decentralisation and other related technologies.

As CEO now, we might see Agrawal himself take the reins of Twitter’s Bluesky project, a decentralised protocol, Bitcoin-based tips and NFT-based profile pictures, too.

One might recall that the Indian government and Twitter were engaged in a bitter standoff earlier this year. First, it was about Twitter choosing not to ban tweets and accounts related to farmers’ protests, even after requests from the Indian government. And later, the Indian government accused Twitter of not complying with its new rules for intermediaries, even threatening legal action against its Indian executives.

So, does having an Indian at the helm of affairs augur well for Twitter’s fortunes in India, its third-largest market with 17.5 million users as of February this year? We’ll have to wait and see if Parag Agrawal can turn things around for Twitter in India.

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