New Delhi: Nearly a week after having his Twitter account locked, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hit out at the social media giant Friday calling it a “biased platform” which is “beholden to the Government of India.”
In a video statement, Gandhi said that by taking action against his Twitter account in this manner, the platform isn’t just impinging on his speech, but also on those of his followers.
“This is not simply shutting Rahul Gandhi down. I have 19-20 million followers. You are denying them the right to an opinion. That’s what you are doing,” he said.
Gandhi further said that this means Twitter isn’t a neutral or objective platform and only listens to what the government of the day said.
“So this is not only patently unfair, this is their breaching the idea that Twitter is a neutral platform. And for the investors, this is a very dangerous thing because taking sides in the political contest has repercussions for Twitter,” he said.
While Gandhi’s account was locked on 7 August, it was followed by similar action against a series of other Congress leaders, workers, and volunteers’ accounts the following week. On Thursday, the Congress party revealed on Instagram that the party’s official Twitter handle had also been locked.
A Twitter spokesperson responded to the allegations by saying that the company’s rules are “enforced judiciously and impartially for everyone on our service”.
“We have taken proactive action on several hundred Tweets that posted an image that violated our rules, and may continue to do so in line with our range of enforcement options,” a Twitter spokesperson told ThePrint.
“Certain types of private information carry higher risks than others, and our aim is always to protect individuals’ privacy and safety. We strongly encourage everyone on the service to familiarise themselves with the Twitter rules and report anything they believe is in violation,” a Twitter spokesperson told ThePrint.
Why Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter was locked
Gandhi’s account was locked last Saturday, days after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) sent a notice to Twitter, saying that a tweet of Gandhi’s violates POCSO and the Juvenile Justice Act.
The tweet in question is one where Gandhi had shared a photo of his meeting the family of an alleged rape victim in Delhi. The victim, a nine-year-old Dalit girl, was allegedly gang-raped, murdered, and then cremated by her attackers in south-west Delhi in late July. Gandhi had posted photos with her family, expressing solidarity with them. However, the faces of the parents were visible in the photos.
According to NCPCR, the image posted by Gandhi was violative of Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act and Section 23 of the POCSO Act.
“In the said photo, the faces of the victim’s father and mother can be seen, which thereby reveals the identity of the minor girl victim,” the NCPCR’s letter to Twitter read.
Twitter responded by ‘temporarily locking’ Gandhi’s account, triggering outrage.
More accounts locked
As a result of Gandhi’s account being locked, several Congress leaders began expressing their outrage against Twitter, by tweeting screenshots of Gandhi’s tweet from their own account, with the hashtag #मैं_भी_Rahul or ‘I too am Rahul’.
However, soon after, many of these leaders too found their accounts locked by Twitter for posting the screenshots.
According to the Congress, among the accounts locked are 25 party leaders, seven official party handles, and those of thousands of volunteers.
Besides Gandhi, Congress leaders whose accounts have been locked include chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, leaders Ajay Maken, K.C. Venugopal, Manickam Tagore, Sushmita Dev, Jitendra Singh Alwar, Ponnam Prabhakar, Harish Singh Rawat.
Other leaders whose accounts were locked include Ganesh Godiyal, Pranav Jha, Pawan Khera, Rohan Gupta, Anil Kumar Chaudhary, Ripun Bora, Madan Mohan Jha, Rajani Patil, Chella Kumar, Revanth Reddy, Jitendra Singh Alwar, Balasaheb Thorat, Gourav Vallabh, Gaurav Pandhi and Saral Patel.
All these leaders had posted screenshots of Gandhi’s tweet, as a means of protest against Twitter.
“I woke up one day and opened my Twitter only to find a notification that my account has been locked for posting this tweet, which had a screenshot of Rahul ji’s tweet,” Gaurav Vallabh, national spokesperson of the Congress, said
Vallabh described this as “deliberate targeting and harassment” of Congress leaders.
“The government has used Twitter to successfully shift the goalpost from the alleged rape of the nine-year-old girl to the pictures posted by us. This is unfair. Until Rahul Gandhi had tweeted about his meeting with the family, there wasn’t any action or any attention given to the matter. The government was just setting aside the matter,” he said.
Besides accounts of the above-mentioned leaders, the party handles which have been locked for posting the same screenshots include Congress’ official handle (@INCIndia) and the handles of the Maharashtra Congress Committee, Mumbai Regional Congress Committee, Gujarat Congress Committee, Rajasthan Congress Committee, Daman & Diu Congress Committee and Tamil Nadu Congress Committee.
However, a member of Congress’ social media department said that it wasn’t just the accounts of leaders and party handles that were locked, but also of “thousands of Congress volunteers”.
“There are thousands of Congress workers and volunteers who had been tweeting the screenshots in solidarity with Rahul Gandhi, they too have had their accounts locked,” the member, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint.
“Even if 1 trillion of our accounts are locked, even if our next seven generations have their accounts locked, we will continue to demand justice for this girl,” Vallabh said.
‘Why take action against us, and not BJP leader?’
The Congress has further accused Twitter of double standards and hypocrisy for not taking action against the Twitter account of a BJP leader who also tweeted pictures showing the faces of the minors’ parents.
“Is Twitter following its own policy for the suspension of Congress leaders’ accounts or the Modi government’s? Why hadn’t it locked the account of SC commission that had tweeted similar photos before any of our leaders did?,” Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted.
Is Twitter following its own policy for the suspension of Congress leaders' accounts or the Modi government’s?
Why hadn’t it locked the account of SC commission that had tweeted similar photos before any of our leaders did? 1/2
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) August 12, 2021
She was referring to tweets by Anju Bala, a former BJP MP and currently a member of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, who on 3 August had tweeted pictures of the family of the victim. While her Twitter account is not locked, the tweet now stands deleted.
According to Twitter’s policy, “If a Tweet was found to be in violation of our rules, and has yet to be deleted by the person who Tweeted it, we will hide it behind a notice. The account will remain locked until the Tweet is removed.”
According to this policy, those who don’t delete a tweet that is found to be in violation of the policy, will continue to have their accounts locked.
Changing name and picture to Rahul’s, and other strategies
The Congress party leaders whose accounts are still active have reacted sharply to Twitter’s actions. On Thursday many of them changed their account names to Rahul Gandhi and the display picture to that of the leader’s.
However, sources in the party said that they soon realised that changing both name and display image to someone else’s falls under the category of ‘impersonation’ on Twitter, so they quickly reverted to their own names.
“We realised this falls under impersonation, so circulated a message asking leaders to revert to their own name. However, now we are using ‘Don’t Lock Justice’ as the name,” said a Congress leader who did not want to be named.
On Friday, NSUI president Neeraj Kundan changed his Twitter name to ‘Don’t Lock Justice’, while Youth Congress president Srinivas B.V. added the hashtag #UnlockRahulGandhi to his name.
— Don't Lock Justice (@Neerajkundan) August 12, 2021
— Srinivas BV #UnlockRahulGandhi (@srinivasiyc) August 12, 2021