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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

For ‘abuse,’ Twitter blocks handle claiming to poll, work with govt

These are some of the posts of the Twitter handle, @MyVoteToday, which claims to be the world’s second largest pollster that has “done a lot of work for the PMO”.

Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | New Delhi | Updated: July 10, 2018 12:16:17 pm
twitter, twitter bots, twitter fake accounts, twitter news, twitter blocking accounts, twitter trolls, twitter news, indian express Calling it a “conspiracy to defame him,” the promoter Amit Bagaria whose firm Apption Digital is associated with most of these accounts told The Indian Express that the handles “were wrongly locked or suspended”.

* “If you could slap one person who would it be?” This question is followed by names of four prominent Opposition voices.

* “To #MakeIndiaGreatAgain which of the 66 alleged #EnemiesOfIndia have to be silenced?” Below are the names of an Opposition politician, an Islamic preacher and a journalist.

* “Which of these journalists could be capable of hiding important news for a bribe?” There are the names of four journalists.

* A retweet with the question “Hottest Party Spokesperson?” is followed by the names of women spokespersons from four political parties.

These are some of the posts of the Twitter handle, @MyVoteToday, which claims to be the world’s second largest pollster that has “done a lot of work for the PMO”.

This handle, along with 27 other handles run by the same promoter, were blocked by Twitter last week for “running multiple accounts for abusive purposes”.

READ | Twitter’s crackdown against fake accounts: Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Virat Kohli likely to lose followers

Calling it a “conspiracy to defame him,” the promoter Amit Bagaria whose firm Apption Digital is associated with most of these accounts told The Indian Express that the handles “were wrongly locked or suspended”.

Bagaria, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, is author of “1914 NaMo or MoNa: Why is 2019 not 2014?”.

When contacted by The Indian Express, a Twitter spokesperson said: “We take the safety of our users very seriously and do not tolerate behaviour that harasses, intimidates or uses fear to silence another person’s voice… Twitter Rules also state that you may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of spamming anyone. This includes posting duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts.”

Asked about some specific tweets mentioned above, Bagaria said: “As far as ‘Who would you like to slap’ is concerned, we realised it was wrong and changed it immediately to ‘Whose picture should hang on top of the MVT wall of Shame’. As far as which journalist would fake news for money is concerned, it is a hot topic of discussion not only in India but worldwide.”

Bagaria claimed that he has sought an appointment with the Union I&B Minister on the action taken by Twitter.

“MyVoteToday is the world’s largest social media pollster based on average 44,000-plus votes per day for over one year. From day one, we have done a lot of work for the PMO and recently started work for mygov.in. We have been influential on policy decisions. We are filing simultaneous defamation suits against Twitter in the USA of $300 million and criminal case of cheating and fraud in India,” he said.

Bagaria’s reference to “cheating and fraud” is based on tweets by a few users who claimed that Twitter notified them last week that @MyVoteToday was blocked based on their complaints which they had never made.

Among them is BG Mahesh, a social media expert who was part of the leadership team that ran the BJP’s online campaign for the 2014 elections and is a founder-promoter of Apption Digital Technologies Pvt Ltd set up in Bengaluru in November 2015. Bagaria and his nephew Samridh Agarwal were the other two founder-promoters.

On July 4, Mahesh tweeted: “Disappointed the way @TwitterIndia has been suspending accounts. I have never reported any account so far & I got a message now stating based on my report an account was suspended.”

When contacted by the Indian Express, Mahesh said: “I left the company long back and can’t speak on its behalf. But Twitter needs to tell what are the problematic polls that the handle has carried recently. Should a foreign company dictate our social media space?”

Apption Digital’s original online poll handle @myvote_today was blocked by Twitter in December 2016, following which @MyVoteToday became the flagship handle of the company. Among the blocked handles run by the company are also @PeopleNChoices, “India’s largest consumer polling platform”, and @ArusAdvisors that offers “Growth Hacking services”.

Twitter users had been reporting @MyVoteToday to Twitter for bias and offensive content since 2017. On June 30, New York-based social media activist Geoff Golberg flagged the handle for potential use of bots and fake accounts as followers.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Golberg said, “Since @MyVoteToday was created, it has, on average, made 150 tweets per day of which 95 included a photo/video. Also, the account gained, on average, 755 followers daily.”

Bagaria attributed the complaints to “losers”.

“Where do we get followers from? From Twitter. It’s their problem if bots exist on the platform. But remember, bots can’t vote. Running multiple accounts is not a violation either as Twitter allows it. Most media houses run multiple accounts for different purposes. Each of our handles had a separate logo (DP), cover photo and bio. We have been reported hundreds of times in 29 months, as losers of polls never liked us,” he said.

In April 2016, B G Mahesh and Samridh Agarwal transferred their shares of Apption (India) to Apption Digital Inc, an US company incorporated in April 2015. The US entity now holds all shares of Apption (India) barring one held by Amit Bagaria, who owns 60 per cent of Apption (USA). The remaining 40 percent, said Bagaria in an email, is held by six shareholders including Mahesh and Agarwal. Apption Digital Inc also owns of the trademark myvote.today since September 2017.

When contacted, Agarwal said: “Amit Bagaria is my uncle. I left the company to join my family business. I cannot comment further.”

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