Rajat Sharma

Is Twitter a tool in political hands ?

rajat-sir A week after locking the account of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, US social media platform Twitter Inc on Saturday unlocked his account and also of several other party leaders. This happened after a storm brewed after Twitter locked the accounts of nearly 5,000 party supporters for posting photograph of Rahul with the parents of a 9-year-old Dalit girl raped and murdered in Delhi.

Twitter had claimed that the posting of the photograph of the parents of a rape victim violated their privacy rules which “were enforced judiciously and impartially”. Since Rahul conducts his political campaign nowadays more via Twitter, he took umbrage when his account and the accounts of his party leaders and supporters were locked.

In a 90 second video on Friday, Rahul Gandhi lashed out at Twitter Inc accusing it of “interfering in the national political process”. He said, locking the Twitter accounts amounted to “an attack on the country’s democratic structure”. In the video titled ‘Twitter’s dangerous game”, Rahul Gandhi alleged that Twitter was no more a neutral and objective platform and that it was “beholden to the government”.

The Congress leader said, the social media platform was denying millions of his followers the right to an opinion, which was unfair. “It’s obvious now that Twitter is actually not a neutral, objective platform. It is a biased platform. It’s something that listens to what the government of the day says”, he said. “This is not, you know, simply shutting Rahul Gandhi down. I have 19-20 million followers. You are denying them the right to an opinion. “

Rahul Gandhi said: “As Indians, we have to ask the question: are we going to allow companies just because they are beholden to the Government of India to define our politics for us? Is this what this is going to come to, or are we going to define out politics on our own? That is the real question here.” He also issued a veiled warning: “..And for the investors, this is a very dangerous thing because taking sides in the political contest has repercussions for Twitter.” He did not elaborate.

The confrontation between Twitter and Congress party began after Twitter suspended Rahul’s account for posting the image of the rape victim’s parents, which was against privacy rules. Soon after, almost all top Congress leaders and nearly 5,000 Congress supporters posted the same image to offer a challenge to Twitter. The social media platform immediately locked all these accounts.

It may be recalled that on August 5, Rahul had visited the Dalit rape victim’s family, after which he had posted the image. This was in violation of Indian law too, because the identity of a rape victim cannot be revealed. The NCPCR (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights) complained to Twitter, which took action. Twitter handles of Congress leaders Ajay Maken, Manickam Tagore, Jitendra Singh, Sushmita Dev, Randeep Singh Surjewala and even the Indian National Congress were locked for posting the images.

Rahul Gandhi also took to Instagram and Facebook to tell his supporters: ‘Do not fear, Satyamev Jayate’. I am not surprised to read and watch what Rahul Gandhi is writing and saying. Only two months ago, when the then Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had cautioned Twitter either to follow Indian rules or face action, it was Rahul who had praised Twitter saying it was a vehicle for freedom of expression. He has blamed the government saying it was trying to stifle the people’s voice by threatening to take action against Twitter.

When BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra posted a tool kit on Twitter, the social media platform blocked it saying it was “manipulated media”. The action then taken by Twitter warmed the cockles of the hearts of Congress leaders. When a Delhi Police team went to Twitter office in connection with a case, Rahul Gandhi and his party leaders questioned the action and defended Twitter. On May 25, Rahul Gandhi had tweeted; “Truth remains unafraid…Satya Darta Nahin”. When Twitter removed the blue ticks of some BJP and RSS leaders, Rahul Gandhi had remarked, this government appears to be more interested in blue ticks from Twitter.

Because of the growing political storm, Twitter Inc on Friday transferred its India managing director Manish Maheshwari to its San Francisco headquarters. For us in India, we should try to realize why Twitter has become so important, why it has become controversial by wading into political issues.

This social media platform from the US, on which anybody from across the world can post any comment or news free of cost, is 15-year-old and it has 20.6 daily active users throughout the world. Out of them, 2.2 crore active users are in India. Posting tweets on this platform provides great exposure. Twitter Inc has its own rules and policy, which, if violated, invites blocking of account.

In Rahul Gandhi’s case too, he identified the rape victim by posting his photograph with the victim’s parents, and this was a violation of Twitter’s privacy rules. Rahul and his party leaders are free to oppose this step, but when the accounts of some BJP leaders were locked by Twitter, Rahul and his partymen had supported that action in the past.

When agitating farmers entered the capital on January 26 this year during their tractor rally, videos of violence were posted on Twitter. The government objected to these videos, but Rahul Gandhi had then supported Twitter. Rahul has now become active on Facebook and Instagram, but he should know that these platforms also have to follow the laws of the land. NCPCR has already issued notices to Facebook officials summoning them for video hearing.

If Rahul’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram are locked, he may blame this action on the government again. One must remember that even the account of India’s IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was also locked, and Twitter had put the accounts of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and other RSS leaders in unverified category. At that time, Rahul and his party leaders were supporting Twitter’s action, but when their own accounts were locked, Congress leaders described the Twitter bird as a “caged parrot”.

In today’s digital age, people keep records of all comments made by leaders in the past, and if one takes a U-turn, the double standard is exposed immediately.

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