Amid a controversy over some Twitter account-holders losing followers and accusations that the social networking site is shadow-banning some handles, especially those voicing right-wing views, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has summoned Twitter to “examine” the issue of citizens’ rights on “social or online news media platforms” on February 11.
This comes days after around 20 people met the committee’s chairman, Lok Sabha MP Anurag Thakur, on February 3 with a document outlining alleged bias against right-wing voices on the platform.
A large group of right-wing supporters had later assembled in front of Twitter India’s office in New Delhi, protesting alleged suspensions of accounts that support their political ideology.
A Twitter spokesperson told The Indian Express that discussions are going on with the government, and no final decision has been made about the Parliamentary meeting.
On Tuesday, Thakur, the BJP MP from Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, had tweeted, “The Parliamentary Commitee on Information Technology will examine the issue: SAFEGUARDING CITIZENS RIGHTS ON SOCIAL/ONLINE NEWS MEDIA PLATFORMS MEITY & TWITTER will present their views. You can tweet/email your views: email@example.com”.
Delhi BJP spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, and Vikas Pandey, a software architect who said he is a BJP supporter and led Sunday’s protests, claimed that 1,000 protesters were present in front of Twitter’s office.
— Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) February 6, 2019
Pandey said he is reaching out to every member in the Parliamentary panel to discuss the topic.
Over two quarters in 2018, Twitter reported that it was losing users, as it cleaned up what it called fake and misleading accounts across the world. In October 2018, Twitter had 326 million monthly active users globally, a fall of 9 million compared to the quarter before.
In a statement then, CEO Jack Dorsey had said the company was “achieving meaningful progress” in its efforts to “make Twitter a healthier and valuable everyday service”, He said he and the company were prioritising “the long-term health” of the platform.
Bagga alleged that Twitter is working with the Congress to intentionally “suspend” and “target” right-wing Twitter handles.
“I think they’re a bunch of bullies…trying to intimidate Twitter from doing their job,” Congress’s social media head Divya Spandana said.
On Wednesday, Bagga wore a shirt on national TV with two tweets by Twitter India’s public policy head Mahima Kaul. The tweets, posted in 2010 and 2011, stated that “Bombs, quakes, deaths are all second to Narendra Modi’s political ambitions”, and “after pussyfooting about recognizing kasab as paki, now they want access? I want to know more. Indian media, get out of modi’s a**.”
Bagga said, “If anyone’s Twitter (account) should be suspended, it should be hers.”
The Twitter spokesperson, who did not wish to be named, said the global team that enforces the platform’s global policy does not make decisions on the basis of ideological views, since it would be against the company’s fundamental values.
Several protesters told The Indian Express that the impetus began with a Twitter campaign to restore an account of a right-wing commentator that was blocked by the platform. Twitter eventually restored the account and stated that the suspension was a mistake.
In the document given to Thakur, the protesters included two other examples of suspended accounts.
Y K Sharma, co-convener of the BJP’s Guragaon social media cell, said, “If you are banning, ban everyone. Why are you targeting us?”
Last year, Twitter came under similar fire in the US, especially involving the so-called “shadow-banning”, or the act of censoring posts to everyone except the post’s author. The controversy culminated in a US Congressional hearing summoning Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who denied accusations that Twitter’s algorithms discriminate against Republican voices.