The Man in the Middle of the Twitter Storm

When the Delhi police served him a notice in May for a case involving tagging some political leaders’ tweets as carrying manipulated media, a spirited Maheshwari said he was employed by Twitter Communications Private Limited, and not Twitter Inc, and, therefore, could not help them.
The authorities were understandably not pleased, reports Neha Alwadhi.

Manish Maheshwari has been a busy man these past few weeks. The managing director of Twitter in India has been named in at least three police complaints, ranging from showing an incorrect map of India to a video of alleged communal violence going viral, one of which even led to him filing a caveat in the Supreme Court.

How did the largely media-shy Maheshwari get to this situation?

The cases mostly concern Twitter’s non-compliance with India’s new rules for intermediaries. Coupled with a tussle in January that involved Twitter pushing back against Indian authorities’ demands to remove selected tweets following the farmers’ protests, non-compliance with the new rules has resulted in Maheshwari being named in multiple first information reports for content posted on Twitter.

When the Delhi police served him a notice in May for a case involving tagging some political leaders’ tweets as carrying manipulated media, a spirited Maheshwari said he was employed by Twitter Communications Private Limited, and not Twitter Inc, and, therefore, could not help them.

The authorities were understandably not pleased with this response, but most large technology firms have a similar structure. Maheshwari’s role, and of the other employees in India, is limited to providing support services for promoting and marketing Twitter in India, and does not include responsibility for content regulation.

“He is directly responsible for fulfilling Twitter’s sales and business goals for the country,” said a person with knowledge of his role at Twitter India.

People who have worked with him describe him as approachable and passionate about technology, which he feels has the power to change things.

Growing up in a small town in Rajasthan, which had little to no connectivity, inspired him to enter the world of technology.

Maheshwari, who is in his early 40s, studied at the Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi, before moving to the Wharton School for an MBA. Among the accomplishments his LinkedIn account records: ‘Only person to score perfect 100 in both Class 10th and Class 12th Mathematics course of India’s Central Board of Secondary Education’.

Math is not his only passion. “He loves Bollywood — we had an internal all-hands a while ago to celebrate a milestone and he was instrumental in getting the cast of the Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives (a Netflix show) on the call for a filmy quiz. He also loves cricket and you can follow him on Twitter for all the latest updates during a match, says a person who works with Maheshwari.

On the professional front, working across a wide range of industries and big brands, Maheshwari has had a taste of it all. Before Twitter, he worked at organisations such as Procter & Gamble, and McKinsey & Co. He also co-founded a mobile technology start-up txtWeb, which was incubated within American software firm Intuit.

With txtWeb, Maheshwari perhaps channelled some of his desire to take technology to everyone.

‘The platform is helping the young child practise math, the curious learner who wants to know via Wikipedia, the mother inquiring about her child’s symptoms and the fan who wants the score,’ a news report in 2014 said.

He was also close to Intuit co-founder Scott Cook, who entrusted Maheshwari with building txtWeb within the software firm.

In 2015, Maheshwari joined Flipkart where he was vice-president of the seller ecosystem, and then moved on as CEO at Network18 Digital, before joining Twitter in 2019.

“Manish is seen as an advocate for ‘India as a growth engine’ within the global company. He is respected as an expert on the intersection of technology and business, having spent years at Flipkart and Intuit,” said a person who works with him at Twitter.

A colleague said Maheshwari was very supportive of the Twitter team during both waves of the pandemic, working tirelessly with internal teams to secure everything from hospital beds to oxygen, and also ensure employees’ mental wellbeing.

Co-workers say Maheshwari has a curious mind, and has the most questions at a meeting. “He’s not afraid to dig in and find out more, which is critical when faced with challenges,” says one co-worker.

Whether employees should be held responsible for content on social media platforms has been a contentious issue the world over. The law provides these firms protection from liability for user-generated content.

Twitter’s case in India is unique, given that the company has been at loggerheads with the government.

There is probably some solace for Twitter in the fact that the actions taken against it go viral on its own platform first.

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