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Twitteromacy or fighting for leftists?


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Few Sunday back, Nitin Gokhale, ex foreign secretary, who was live on Twitter near the Leh airport noticed that his location was displaying as ‘Jammu and Kashmir, People’s Republic of China’!

This anomaly was raised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) member and my old friend Mr. Kanchan Gupta to Twitter India, stating that it was not an ‘isolated incident’, but that several netizens who were logging online at the same time, faced the same issue. Microblogging site Twitter said that it’s teams have worked swiftly to investigate and resolve the geotag issue, a day after it landed in a controversy as the location tag in a live broadcast showed Jammu and Kashmir as a part of China. National Security Analyst Nitin Gokhale who brought the lapse to Twitter’s attention said, “You (Twitter) are still getting it wrong.”

Twitter makes each and every one a publisher and a consumer at a global level, nearly unhindered, and then elements like trending topics, and the virility, all make the platform very vulnerable to be abused or misunderstood at the same time. We create a Tweet to announce the individual’s arrival and also consume a tweet and either we like or share or retweet or comment. There is no way the tweet can be disliked.

Micro – blogging platform Twitter has courted controversy for 3rd time in last 18 months in India, a market where it claims to have over 30 million users and growing. This time, it got embroiled in a caste controversy when it suspended the Twitter account of a senior columnist Dilip C. Mandal on the pretext of violation of the platforms content and privacy policy.

While the social media platform eventually re-activated his profile, the damage had already been done. Mandal voiced his concern on how Twitter denied ‘Blue Tick’ verification to people from the lower caste and ‘dalit’ background. The incident led to a wave of tweets expressing anger and soon trends such as #CasteistTwitter, #JaiBhimTwitter, and #SackManishMaheswari were all over the news. Angry users demanded the removal of the blue tick in India to enforce uniform rules and #CancelAllBlueTicks trended. These people pointed that Twitter wasn’t curbing hate speech and was going soft on users who violated the company’s norms. On the other hand, its actions were focused more on the marginalised sections of the Indian society like Dalits, and other backward castes.

A senior Supreme Court lawyer Nitin Meshram summarised the grievances of these communities against Twitter as follows – Twitter India is discriminating against SC – ST – OBC activists in suspending & verifying their accounts, Twitter lacks uniform rules & therefore, #CasteistTwitter suppresses Dalit, OBC & Tribal activists by unequal reference to its rules, without verified badge, Dalit, OBC & Tribals are not authentic in the digital world, all stalwarts of Dalits, OBCs & Tribals are denied verified badge and TwitterSupport doesn’t provide for a mechanism of application for verification. This was a serious charge.

The way Twitter has behaved with President Trump the world is watching and all pro nationalist governments are watching that if Twitter can go to the extent of cutting POTUS speech and tweets, Right or not is a separate issue, the action means a lot of authority for a private company to have and suspend account of a sitting President of US, though he becomes a lame duck President if not reelected or will complete 2 years of presidentship after new POTUS is declared victorious.

Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, GAFA gang as they are called, are in the dock for their monopolistic practices worldwide. While FB has been profiting off hate speech on its platforms, Google has been exploiting content creators for advertising revenue and also playing with the ranking of the content results. This has created a distorted view of the world. Inequality in the world is rising and many countries are blocking them to create their own tools.

China has its own social media giants and their viewing is totally controlled by the state. State is also able to find, who all are viewing the foreign social media and strict measures are taken to control the narrative. In its latest strike against online content Russia is throttling Twitter. State agency Roskomnadzor said, it was taking the action in response to the social media not removing banned content, claiming it had identified more than 3,000 unlawful posts that have not been taken down and warning it could implement a total block on the service. Whenever twitter is accessed, the speed of access is downgraded, thereby in effective an unequal internet.

However the action by the communication regulator to slow down all Twitter’s mobile traffic and 50% of desktop users in Russia appeared to have briefly taken down Roskomnadzor’s own website earlier today. Reports also circulated on the social media that Russian government websites, including kremlin.ru, had been affected. At the time of writing these sites were accessible but earlier many users were unable to access Roskomnadzor’s site.

The stand-off between the state agency and Twitter comes at a time when Russia is trying to clamp down on anti-corruption protestors who are supporters of the jailed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, who has, in recent weeks, called for demonstrators to take to the streets to ramp up pressure on the Putin regime.

Most notoriously, back in 2018, an attempt by Russia to block access to the messaging service Telegram resulted in massive collateral damage to the local Internet as the block took down millions of (non-Telegram-related) IP addresses, disrupting those other services. Also in 2018 Facebook-owned Instagram complied with a Russian request to remove content posted by Navalny, which earned it a shaming tweet from the now jailed politician.

The new military Junta has clamped the ban on the usage of the social media in Myanmar especially in the Mandalay and Rangoon cities. Atrocities are being committed on the citizens against the protests and local citizens are suffering.

Recently a top Indian official held a virtual meeting with global executives of Twitter. There the social media giant was told that it was “welcome to do business in India”, but it had to follow the laws of the country “irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines”. The backdrop of the meeting was the mounting tension between Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and Twitter over tweets and accounts linked to the continuing farmers’ protests against a series of duly passed and notified agriculture reform laws.

The agitation had been jolted by violence involving a group of protesters on 26th January, 2021 at the ramparts of the Red Fort, which left one person dead due to his own folly and hundreds of policemen injured. The government had asked Twitter to remove tweets that had used an incendiary hashtag, and accounts allegedly used by Sikh separatist groups and “backed by Pakistan”.

Twitter had first blocked some 250 accounts in response to a legal notice by the government, citing objections based on public order. These included accounts of an investigative news magazine, and activists and outfits associated with supporting the months-long protests on the outskirts of Delhi. Then, six hours later, Twitter restored the accounts, citing “insufficient justification” for continuing the suspension. The government was not pleased. In a terse statement, it directed Twitter to block the accounts again, and threatened people working for the company in India with legal action – up to seven years in prison – if they refused to do so and rightly so. The national interest is always important. The tweets, insisted the government, were part of a “motivated campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds”.

Subsequently, Twitter responded in a blog, the firm said it had suspended more than 500 accounts – some permanently – that were engaged in “platform manipulation and spam”, taken action on “hundreds of accounts” that violated its rules on incitement and violence, and prevented certain terms that violated its rules from trending. In line with its rules, some accounts had been blocked only in India, but could have been seen abroad.

But it also said it would not block accounts belonging to media companies, journalists, activists and politicians because that would “violate their fundamental right to free expression under the Indian law”. The face-off continues. India’s information technology minister has now joined in, telling the parliament that “action” would be taken against social media platforms if they were “misused to spread fake news and violence”.

“You have millions of followers in India, you are free to do business and make money, but you will have to follow the Indian constitution,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, said, naming a number of sites, including Facebook and Twitter. Many say it is not clear whether the government is trying to strong-arm Twitter to silence protesters or moving towards blocking it from India. Whatever may the prognosis of free speech may argue but showing the nation in poor light will not be tolerated by nationalists.

Like elsewhere, Twitter has a rocky relationship with India. India was among the five countries last year which accounted for 96% of the global legal requests for removing content – Japan, Russia, South Korea and Turkey were the others. The site also received 5,900 requests from the Indian government for information relating to accounts, according to its Transparency Report. Amid this row, the government has also taken to an India microblogging app called Koo to respond to Twitter. A number of BJP supporters, ministers and officials have opened accounts on this year – old Twitter clone, which offers messaging in eight Indian languages. Twitter, which has an estimated 15 million users in India, isn’t giving up the fight. “We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve. We are exploring options under Indian law – both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted.” But downloads for Koo has picked up and government sites give their tweets on Koo and later on twitter. As on 17th March 2021, Koo has 4.7 downloads and rising. The day is not far that Indian PM moves from Twitter to Koo.

Hope the Jack Dorsey and his left oriented team change its tone and tenor. I also have an account on Koo. So let’s Koo on forever!

Rajiv Saxena
Rajiv Saxena
Rajiv Prakash Saxena is a graduate of UBC, Vancouver, Canada. He is an authority on eCommerce, eProcurement, eSign, DSCs and Internet Security. He has been a Technology Bureaucrat and Thought leader in the Government. He has 8 books and few UN assignments. He wrote IT Policies of Colombia and has implemented projects in Jordan, Rwanda, Nepal and Mauritius. Rajiv writes, speaks, mentors on technology issues in Express Computers, ET, National frontier and TV debates. He worked and guided the following divisions: Computer Aided Design (CAD), UP: MP: Maharashtra and Haryana State Coordinator to setup NICNET in their respective Districts of the State, TradeNIC, wherein a CD containing list of 1,00,000 exporters was cut with a search engine and distributed to all Indian Embassies and High Commissions way back in the year 1997 (It was an initiative between NIC and MEA Trade Division headed by Ms. Sujatha Singh, IFS, India’s Ex Foreign Secretary), Law Commission, Ministry of Law & Justice, Department of Legal Affairs, Department of Justice, Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA), National Jail Project, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Commission for Minorities (NCM), National Data Centres (NDC), NIC National Infrastructure, Certifying Authority (CA) to issue Digital Signature Certificates (DSCs), eProcurement, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs (MPA), Lok Sabha and its Secretariat (LSS) and Rajya Sabha and its Secretariat (RSS) along with their subordinate and attached offices like Directorate of Estate (DoE), Land & Development Office (L&DO), National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC), Central Public Works Department (CPWD), National Capital Regional Planning Board (NCRPB), Housing & Urban Development Corporation (HUDO), National Building Organisation (NBO), Delhi Development Authority (DDA), BMPTC and many others.


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