New Delhi: A letter by the Ministry of Electronics and IT to Twitter, protesting against the ‘manipulated media’ tag attached to a tweet by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, was sent at the behest of the national party, ThePrint has learnt.
In a strongly worded communication, the ministry Friday had asked Twitter to remove the tag after Patra tweeted on an alleged Congress ‘toolkit’ that targeted the Centre’s Covid-19 response. It further said the social media platform could not pass judgment on a matter that is under investigation.
In its letter to the global communication team, the IT ministry said Twitter had “unilaterally drawn conclusion in this matter” and had arbitrarily tagged “tweets and their content as manipulated media”. Such tagging, it said, appeared “prejudged, prejudiced” and was a “deliberate attempt to colour the investigation by the local law enforcement agency”. It added that this action not only dilutes Twitter credibility as a neutral and unbiased platform, but also draws into question Twitter’s status as an intermediary.
The government asserted that investigation will determine the veracity of the toolkit’s content and not Twitter, and asked the microblogging platform not to interfere in the investigation process.
Twitter’s decision on Patra came a day after the Congress lodged a complaint with the social media company’s headquarters in California. The party asked Twitter to permanently suspend the accounts of several BJP leaders, including party chief J.P. Nadda and Union minister Smriti Irani, for allegedly “spreading misinformation and unrest in the society”.
BJP asked govt to take up matter at highest level
Sources in the BJP told ThePrint that the issue was “discussed at the party-level and the high command communicated to IT Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad to flag the issue at highest level”.
Following this, the minister is believed to have instructed the IT secretary to issue a stern warning to Twitter’s global team, sources said.
A senior BJP leader said, “Since investigation is still on, how did Twitter reach a conclusion? This shows a biased approach towards the ruling party. The onus is on the micro blogging site to correct its mistake.”
He added that many times, BJP supporters complained about Twitter having a biased approach to the party, but to “protect freedom of expression and divergent view”, the party leadership didn’t escalate the matter.
“But this is a question of BJP president and few central ministers … Patra is one of the main spokespersons of the party … any biased action can dent party and government’s credibility,” the leader, who did not wish to be identified, said.
A second BJP leader said since the matter also involved the party president, “it can’t be taken lightly … so immediately action was taken”. “Party and government will see what can be done since the issue involves narrative, and it seems Congress is leading the narrative,” the leader added on condition of anonymity.
Concern in party about narrative, credibility
The second BJP leader quoted above said the party was currently “battling two crisis at one time”.
On one hand, the party is battling the perception that the government “was not not sincere in handing the second Covid wave” and did not make any preparations, while on the other, it is worried this “toolkit narrative will dent party credibility”, the leader said.
Other party leaders raised the fact that party chief Nadda almost immediately involved himself in the issue following’s Patra press conference.
“Normally, the party president takes serious note of any issue after a fact check … if required, president involves themselves at a later stage, but it is not clear if Patra’s enthusiasm to corner the Congress misguided the party or if this is an overreaction of a few leaders, creating a whole mess. But this is not the time for blame game … many things depend on Delhi Police’s investigation,” said the second BJP leader quoted.
How the controversy erupted
In a press briefing Tuesday, Patra had shared contents of the alleged toolkit in which it stressed on using phrases such as ‘Modi strain’ and ‘super spreader Kumbh’ while also urging that questions be raised on PM CARES and Home Minister Amit Shah.
Patra, in his tweet, had posted: “Friends look at the #CongressToolKit in extending help to the needy during Pandemic! More of a PR exercise with help of “Friendly Journalist” & “Influencers” than a soulful endeavour (sic).”
Friends look at the #CongressToolKit in extending help to the needy during the Pandemic!
More of a PR exercise with the help of “Friendly Journalists” & “Influencers” than a soulful endeavour.
Read for yourselves the agenda of the Congress:#CongressToolKitExposed pic.twitter.com/3b7c2GN0re
— Sambit Patra (@sambitswaraj) May 18, 2021
In response, Congress said the toolkit documents flagged by the BJP were “fake” and filed a police complaint against BJP leaders Nadda and Irani as well. The Chhattisgarh Police registered an FIR to probe the matter.
Congress also alleged that Patra had fabricated content and used a forged letterhead of the Congress’s research department in a complaint lodged with the Delhi Police.
Patra’s tweet isn’t the first to have been flagged by Twitter for its content. In December 2020, a tweet by Amit Malviya on the farmers’ protest was also flagged as ‘manipulated media’.
With inputs from PTI
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)