Twitter is anything but an objective, independent social media platform. When it suspended former US President Donald Trump’s account, what German Chancellor Angela Merkel said should form the basic policy guideline on dealing with Twitter in any country. She worried that the “ban came without much transparency or clear due process, from the leadership of social media companies and not according to legal intervention.”
This exactly is the case when we see Twitter dealing with many accounts in an arbitrary manner that spread inflammatory messages, especially targeting Hindus and their faith.
People have started believing that Twitter is too big a giant to be taken on by Indians who plead to it sheepishly to mend its ways. And perhaps inaction on part of authorities is turning Twitter more arrogant, with its prejudices becoming more pronounced and irritating each day.
Take, for example, former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohammad’s controversial tweet that “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill French people”. It led to an uproar.
But Twitter initially allowed the tweet to stay “in the public interest”.
France protested and asked for the suspension of the Malaysian PM’s account. “If not, Twitter would be an accomplice to murder,” France’s junior digital affairs minister said. It was then that Twitter removed the tweet saying that it violated the platform’s rules, but the account wasn’t suspended. No apology was given by Mahathir. Twitter acted as if it was shadow-shielding him.
Twitter is behaving the way a British sergeant would with colonised people. Look ‘helpful, just and rewarding to the loyal Raibahadurs and Khansahebs’, but be brute and autocratic with independent voices.
The Amul case
As I had written in my Times of India blog, @Amul_Coop’s account was blocked by Twitter “for uploading two beautiful and strong banners — one showing the famous Amul girl standing up to the Chinese with the caption ‘Chinee Kam Karo’ and the other in which she is seen resisting the mythical Chinese dragon with the caption ‘Resist the Dragon’.
The banners were so good and powerful that even a million fiery speeches and hard-hitting articles couldn’t have conveyed what they did.
Amul is not just a milk cooperative. It represents the soul and fragrance of the Indian soil. Restricting and rebuking it for being Indian, for being a patriotic citizen supporting the soldiers fighting the enemies on the border is a cardinal sin. It’s an unpardonable crime for which Twitter India should have been punished.”
But nothing happened. A day later, probably after seeing the mood of the people on social media, Twitter silently restored the Amul account without offering an apology, or giving any reason as to why the account was blocked in the first place.
My Twitter account got suspended without any reason. And it was restored after a week. I did not have the option to approach any Indian law agency. Twitter wore stone-cold silence, dishing out standard lines that meant nothing.
Earlier @trueindology’s account was blocked for uploading a quote taken from a book published by the Indian Council of Historical Research.
Recent suspension of accounts — Lt Governor of J&K Manoj Sinha, famed actress Kangana Ranaut — declaring BJP leaders’ tweets as ‘manipulated media’ while being silent on fake pictures and news on Covid victims (proven on record) showing dead bodies floating in Ganga from 2015, and ignoring tweets spreading communal hatred against Hindus have made a mockery of Indian laws. No person or institution can be allowed to dwarf national laws. Twitter usually looks the other way when the BJP and PM Narendra Modi are attacked with fake pictures and posts.
Twitter plays a role in deciding and modifying content, and hence allows itself to be prosecuted as a party of the matter being legally examined. (Section 79 of IT Act read with Intermediary Guideline Rules).
The social media platforms collect data, influence public perception and opinions through algorithms that decide what people will see and listen to. Thus, based on a user’s initial activity, profile, demographic attributes, etc., the social media platforms selectively push content. Such a deliberate manipulation of information flow, albeit under the guise of better user experience, is nothing but colonisation of digital space.
The issue is not just the ‘manipulated media’ tag, which is not a party matter but enormously concerns issues of our status as a sovereign republic. It is a much deeper matter that involves the basic question — should Indian laws be applicable to agencies working in India or not? Should we be happy as a nation that prides itself on sending its children abroad serving America Mata while we shout slogans in praise of Bharat Mata at home? Should we let ‘independent sovereign cyber republics’ defy our Constitution?
It’s high time that the Narendra Modi government creates a Cyber Security Ministry and immediately starts working on strengthening the cyber ecosystem.
Listen to the experts in the field without any prejudice. The entire legal ecosystem needs to be reworked. The liability of Indian subsidiaries vis-à-vis parent companies needs to be defined.
The government must make local data storage of all Indian citizens mandatory by law/statute (Australia has already done that).
The Reserve Bank of India had tried to implement localisation of financial data, but many felt it faced enormous pressure from big credit card companies.
Protect cyber sovereignty
The sovereignty of a country is exercised through the authority of the State. By enforcing end-to-end encryption and data anonymisation, technology companies are trying to create a parallel space where the authority vested in the State on behalf of its citizens, cannot be exercised due to so-called ‘technology limitations’. One way in which they can be regulated is by bringing their entire operations in India, under an Indian subsidiary. This will make them directly accountable to our laws.
India must strengthen its own great institutions like the Survey of India and Bhuvan (geoportal of ISRO) instead of giving a free run to Google Earth and Google internet and wifi services. Why haven’t we strengthened National Informatics Centre (NIC) as a public internet provider? Even an indigenously developed meeting app like Zoom, Cisco, or Google Duo is not available. The NIC uses Vidyo app for virtual meetings, which is borrowed from the US.
Indian entrepreneurship must take up the challenge to build indigenous social media platforms. The government must make up its mind and ask the internet colonisers to either follow laws or quit India.
The author is a former BJP member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.
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