Parag Agrawa, ancien directeur technique de Twitter, succède à Jack Dorsey à la tête de l'entreprise. (Crédits : DR)

A technician as discreet as he is competent, Parag Agrawal could lead Twitter on the path of web 3.0, but will have to deal with the delicate question of content moderation along the way.

Twitter has a new leader. The flamboyant Jack Dorsey, known for his diet as healthy as it is strict, his diligent practice of meditation (two hours a day), his all-consuming passion for cryptocurrencies and his beard of an Orthodox priest, succeeds a competent engineer unknown to the general public .

Born in Ajmer, Rajasthan, in 1984, Prag Agrawal joined the already well-supplied club of leaders of Silicon Valley of Indian origin, which already included Arvind Krishna (IBM), Satya Nadella (Microsoft) and Sundar Pichai (Google ) among its members. He began his studies in computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay and completed them at Stanford University, near Silicon Valley. Then, with his diploma in hand, he landed a job at Microsoft, then Yahoo, before joining the ranks of Twitter in 2011.

A technician for Twitter
He first worked there as an engineer specializing in artificial intelligence, and quickly rose to the position of CTO (technical director) in 2017. Position in which he had to manage several diplomatic crises, including a computer bug that exposes the passwords of 330 million users in 2018 and the revelation last year that Twitter algorithms prefer white faces to black faces.

“My choice has long been on him, he fully understands the business and its needs,” said Jack Dorsey, commenting on his decision in an email made public on his Twitter account, before adding that “Parag was behind every major decision that allowed this company to get back on track. ”

Innovate more, faster
The fact that a technical profile succeeds a founder with a strong personality is not uncommon in Silicon Valley, and often proves to be a winning formula. This is evidenced, for example, by the way in which Tim Cook succeeded Steve Jobs at the head of Apple. But in the case of Twitter, this choice also responds to a structural weakness of the company: investors in the social network have in the past been annoyed by its lack of capacity to innovate.

A weakness that Parag Agrawal could well remedy. The new leader has a solid knowledge of artificial intelligence and has helped to rapidly develop new products and features as CTO, while driving the migration of Twitter from its own servers to the cloud in order to gain flexibility and speed of deployment for these new solutions.

Because the situation of Twitter, without being bad, is not idyllic. The social network has seen the growth in its number of users slow in four of the last five quarters. According to Wall Street’s predictions, its number of daily active users, known as “monetizable”, which is around 200 million, should grow by 14% this year, against 22% for Snapchat, which already has more than 300 million.

Towards a decentralized Twitter?
Under the leadership of Parag Agrawal, innovation could well rhyme with decentralization. As CTO, he oversaw the Bluesky project, announced in December 2019. Designed as an “open and decentralized platform for social media,” in the words of Jack Dorsey, Bluesky intends to transfer the power from platforms to users. , by allowing them, for example, to ensure moderation themselves and to code their own algorithms.

After a tentative start, there has been a recent boost: A study on decentralized social media came out earlier this year, and Twitter named cryptocurrency developer Jay Graber as head of Bluesky in August. . With the rise of Parag Agrawal to the top position, it’s a safe bet that Bluesky will be one of the company’s priorities in the months to come.

Especially since the “Crypto team” launched by Twitter in November is also placed directly under his orders, and he led the efforts to integrate crypto-currencies into the platform, in particular allowing users to make donations in bitcoins . The new leader’s interest in blockchain, crypto-currencies and the decentralized web therefore also augurs for new projects in this area on the part of the social network, which could well become a scout for web 3.0.

Navigation in troubled waters
But Parag Agrawal will also have to face a difficult situation, at a time when the question of freedom of expression on social networks is on everyone’s lips across the Atlantic. On the one hand, Democrats regularly accuse platforms like Twitter of not being tough enough against the proliferation of extremist content and hate speech, or even of promoting their circulation through their algorithms.

On the other hand, the Republicans accuse them on the contrary of censoring their political family, accusations notably motivated by the fact that the employees of Twitter, Facebook and others vote mainly on the left. Twitter’s censorship of an article containing compromising information about Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, the day before the 2020 presidential election, and Donald Trump’s final ban from the platform following the insurgency led by his Supporters on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021 were two hard-to-swallow snakes for American conservatives.

Where Jack Dorsey had struggled to strike a difficult balance that would satisfy both parties, could the change in leadership tip the scales one way or the other? Difficult to predict. On the one hand, in an interview with the MIT Technology Review last year, Parag Agrawal asserted that Twitter’s role was to offer a

a welcoming online space for everyone, which he believes could come at the cost of freedom of expression. On the other hand, his attachment to decentralization could inaugurate a Twitter that would wash its hands of moderation and leave it to users.

Frances Haugen’s appearance in front of Congress on Wednesday 1 December, during which the whistleblower demanded the reform of article 230, while elected Democrats and Republicans scrapped around censorship and freedom of expression, has in any case, gave the new CEO an idea of the challenge that awaits him.

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