India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, has criticised Twitter for locking them out of their accounts on the platform, claiming the decision was taken due to pressure from India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
The Congress party, an opponent of the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Thursday claimed its official account and around 5,000 accounts belonging to its members and workers were locked.
The action came hours after the opposition party posted photos of their leader Rahul Gandhi visiting the family of a nine-year-old girl belonging to the marginalised Dalit community, who was allegedly raped and killed in Delhi last week.
The party has alleged that Twitter acted under pressure from the Narendra Modi government.
A post on the Congress’s Instagram account on Thursday contained a screenshot of a message from Twitter saying the account had been locked for “violating Twitter rules” relating to “publishing or posting other people’s private information without their express authorisation and permission”.
“Modi ji, just how afraid are you? Reminder: The Congress party fought for our nation’s independence, equipped only with truth, non-violence and the will of the people. We won then, we’ll win again,” the post by the Congress said.
Earlier, the account of Rahul Gandhi – the party’s former president who is also an elected member of the country’s Parliament – was locked by Twitter. Twitter said this was also due to the posting of private information.
In an email statement to The Independent, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed the action against INC’s official account and others related to it.
Twitter said India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) alerted them “about specific content on our platform that allegedly revealed the identity of an alleged sexual assault victim’s (and a minor’s) parents.”
“We reviewed it against Twitter Rules and policies, as well as the concerns expressed as a matter of the Indian law,” the email said.
On allegations of bias and pressure from the Indian government, the company reiterated that their rules “are enforced judiciously and impartially for everyone”.
“We have taken proactive action on several hundred Tweets that posted an image that violated our rules, and may continue to do so in line with our range of enforcement options,” the emailed statement said.
Rohan Gupta, the Congress’s information technology cell head, however, alleged Twitter was taking selective action.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr Gupta questioned why a tweet by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, a government body under the jurisdiction of the federal social justice ministry, was allowed to stay up.
“If it is violation of the police, then why was SC commission’s tweet allowed to be on Twitter?” Mr Gupta questioned, referring to a tweet that showed photos of an official from the government body visiting the family.
In India, the terms Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe are used to refer to marginalised groups of people who are protected from caste-based atrocities under special laws.
According to Mr Gupta, the commission posted the photos before Mr Gandhi, with no action initiated from Twitter. But after Mr Gandhi posted a photograph last week, he was locked out of his account and the tweet was taken down.
“If you are working under government pressure, then you should come out and tell us clearly that we are are not doing this for policy violation,” he said.
“We are very clear, we are not going to delete our post, it is upon you [Twitter] to correct your mistake and unlock our account,” he added.
Several other politicians from the party have also dubbed the move by the social media giant as an attempt to placate the Modi government.
Over recent months, a rift between Modi government and Twitter had opened up. The company has, in some cases, taken a stand and called out incorrect information posted by members of the ruling party, terming such posts as “manipulated media”.
Twitter has, however, often had to soften its stance and comply with government directives. In May, the Indian government sent notices to the social media giant to drop tags calling out misinformation.
Earlier, the Indian government came up with a new set of guidelines for social media platforms to comply with authorities. These guidelines included demands of censorship and setting up of a compliance team to work with Indian authorities. Twitter was openly criticised by government ministers for not initially complying.
During the farmers protests in India, the government asked Twitter to remove 1,178 handles it alleged were backed by Pakistan. Several activists also alleged that the accounts of vocal citizens posting in support of the demonstrations were taken down by the company.
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