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Friday, June 18, 2021

Twitter marks BJP leader’s post on Cong ‘toolkit’ manipulated; IT Ministry steps in, calls it biased

The government has asked Twitter to remove the 'manipulated media' tag as the matter is pending before law enforcement agency, and made it clear that the social media platform cannot pass judgment when the issue is under investigation.

Written by Liz Mathew , Aashish Aryan , Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: May 22, 2021 8:54:57 am
Investigation will determine the veracity of the content and not Twitter, it has asserted while asking the microblogging platform not to interfere in the investigation process. (Representational image)

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has written to Twitter objecting to it tagging some of the posts on an alleged Congress “toolkit” against the Modi government, as “manipulated media”. In a letter seeking that the tag be removed, the ministry has said the move by Twitter appears “prejudged”, “prejudiced”, and “arbitrary”. Among those whose posts was tagged is BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.

The BJP itself is yet to officially respond to Twitter, although leaders complained that the platform was “biased” against the party.

The Congress said the tagging had “vindicated” its stand that the “toolkit” allegations were a forgery and fraud by the BJP.

Sources said that in its letter, the IT Ministry said Twitter had “unilaterally drawn a conclusion in this matter” and had “arbitrarily tagged” tweets and their content as “manipulated media”. “Such tagging by Twitter appears prejudged, prejudiced and a deliberate attempt to colour the investigation by the local law enforcement agency. This action not only dilutes the credibility of Twitter as a neutral and unbiased platform facilitating exchange of views by the users but also puts a question mark on the status of Twitter as an intermediary,” says the letter.

Responding to a query by The Indian Express on whether it had received the communication from the IT Ministry, Twitter said it would not be commenting on the issue.

The BJP had released the alleged “toolkit” on Tuesday, essentially a document seemingly on a Congress letterhead, laying out a campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre over the handling of the Covid pandemic. BJP president J P Nadda, Union minister Smriti Irani, and senior party leaders had later put out posts with the hashtag “CongressToolkitExposed”

The IT Ministry letter says the matter is being investigated by a law enforcement agency, and Twitter had acted before the conclusion of the probe.

Sources in the BJP said the party IT cell was consulting legal experts over a response to Twitter’s move. “Twitter has been taking a biased stand towards the BJP and its activists for some time. We have taken it seriously. If it can tag our tweets as manipulated at the advice of the Congress party, the IT Ministry of this government, whom many call Fascist, could ask it to tag everything Rahul Gandhi posts as fake and manipulated,” a party leader said.

Another leader pointed out that Twitter hadn’t tagged all the tweets linked to the “toolkit” allegations against the Congress — including those by BJP general secretary B L Santhosh — implying that the objection was not to the charge as much as “the text Patra put along with it”.

In his post, Patra had said: “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.”

A BJP leader said that recently Gandhi had tweeted that the second wave should be called “Movid Pandemic”. “Does it not amount to hate speech? He also said that all ventilators purchased and distributed under PM-CARES fund had failed. Is that a fact?”

BJP leaders argued that Twitter is a platform and “the platform cannot be a player”. “The Congress has complained, and the investigation is on. The BJP has given evidence — technical and circumstantial — to prove the Congress’s role,” a leader said.

The Congress said Twitter’s move had “validated” its stand. “What the Congress has been saying for many days and in fact many years…about the BJP’s false propaganda and spreading of lies…has actually been validated by this single incident,” AICC general secretary in-charge of organisation K C Venugopal said.

He said the Congress will discuss how to follow up on the party’s demand that Twitter suspend the official handles of Nadda, Irani, Patra, and Santhosh. The party has also filed a case with Delhi Police seeking registration of an FIR against the four for forgery.

Asked about the Congress demand that the tweets be removed, spokesperson Pawan Khera said the world should see the posts to know what the ruling party in India was doing in the middle of a pandemic. “That they are not fulfilling their responsibilities but trying to stop those who are working,” he said, adding that the Congress will not take such attempts to tarnish it lying down anymore.

The two-page document shared by the BJP as a Congress “toolkit” talked about “an opportunity to destroy his (Modi’s) image and erode his popularity” as the “approval ratings of Prime Minister Modi have been high and have not dipped despite crisis and mismanagement”. The document also urges campaigners to use phrases like “Indian strain” whenever talking of the new mutant, and says social media volunteers may call it “Modi strain”, as well as push phrases like “Missing Amit Shah”, “Quarantined Jaishankar”, “Sidelined Rajnath Singh”, “Insensitive Nirmala Sitharaman” etc.

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