Twitter CEO looks at social media's global role

Dick Costolo, Parag Khanna.
Dick Costolo, Parag Khanna.

Speaking in Singapore, Dick Costolo predicted that nothing will stop today's "regional" social networks, like Line and WeChat, from operating globally

SINGAPORE — Asia’s startup culture is more similar to than different from Silicon Valley's, Dick Costolo, chief executive of Twitter, told an audience here Wednesday during a wide-ranging discussion that also touched on the region's home-grown social platforms, Indian politics, public policy, content integrity and China.

Appearing in a Q&A session with Parag Khanna, international relations expert, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Costolo discussed the role of Twitter in shaping key global events and new innovations on the platform that will create increased integration of social media in peoples’ lives.

"I think when events happen in the world, they unfold digitally on Twitter immediately," Costolo said. "However, the rumors in the aftermath of some event can lead to so much confusion. The beauty about Twitter is the scale and speed at which the communities can autocorrect."

Ultimately, he feels, this will change the media and technology landscape considerably and far exceed the ability of public policy to keep up (here he referred to controversy over "super injunctions" in the UK).

On another topic, Costolo appeared impressed by the level of startup innovation in Asia. "When we think of our M&A strategy we now look much more globally than we did 18 months ago. We’re very happy with the acquisition of ZipDial, an Indian company that enables offline Twitter viewing."

Asia's startup acumen comes down to a desire "not to focus" on structure but to "get it right."

"It’s this attitude of focusing on opportunity rather than talking around it, and creating presentations and slides. They show up wearing shorts and T-shirts, and I’ll still take them seriously."

Costolo also predicted that nothing will stop today's "regional" social networks, like Line and WeChat, from operating globally.

The Twitter CEO, who is on his first Asian tour, called Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian president Joko Widodo two of the most tech-savvy global leaders. They both understand the platform’s ability to directly connect to the voter without filters and intermediaries, he said. "When you connect to an individual voter, that direct connection is amplified across many voters and the leverage and the value you get from that is extraordinary. Politicians who don’t do it will be at a massive disadvantage."

Costolo was recently in India to launch Twitter Samvad, a service aimed at boosting e-governance by helping leaders and government bodies communicate with citizens on a daily basis via tweets and SMS on their mobile devices. Updates on services and policies can be delivered to any user with a mobile device, without a data plan, simply by giving a missed call.

Asked to comment about his new role as a CEO statesman and the demand from certain countries to remove posts, Costolo said that he’s been thrown into a position that he never imagined dealing with. "On a regular basis we deal with laws in the countries we operate in, and that’s just as prevalent in democratic nations," he said. "We get a lot of requests to take down content. But we’ve been vocal and public in defending our users' rights. We’ve gone to court with governments and we’ll continue to do that."

Twitter also has legal, security and public policy exchanges with other companies in the space, like Facebook and Google, from time to time. "We all take slightly different approaches and so we don’t always present a unified front."

Asked about the the all-important China market, Costolo said he would love for Twitter to be unblocked in China and for people to use it freely. "It’s such a powerful tool and it can save lives in emergencies," he said. The remark comes two weeks after Twitter opened a sales office in Hong Kong, which received widespread coverage because of its proximity to China.

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