Social media firms like Twitter face a huge challenge to prevent misuse of their platforms in the upcoming elections. However, this can also be viewed as a great opportunity.
- Twitter has been summoned by a parliamentary panel over allegations of bias.
- Some BJP party members have accused the platform of being biased against Modi as well as right wing handles.
- The issue is generic to social media platforms, as they face increasing regulatary scrutiny in India, just like the rest of the world.
Twitter India got a taste of things to come in election season, as it has been summoned by a parliamentary panel on information technology on February 11.
This panel is led by BJP MP Anurag Thakur. According to the notice, the agenda of the meeting will be “Safeguarding Citizens Rights On Social Media Platforms“. This panel wants an explanation from Twitter on the tools and processes it uses to deal with complaints of bias and fake news.
The notice is linked to protests against Twitter by BJP party members, who have accused the company of being anti-Modi and anti-right wing.
DID THE TWITTER BIRD TURN LEFT?
Delhi BJP spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga has squarely accused Twitter of showing bias against BJP and also shutting down pro-BJP and right wing handles. Activists have taken out specific tweets to push their case against the social media platform. They say that Twitter is relatively slow to respond when their political rivals get abusive, but is quick to suspend BJP accounts.
Another activist-advocate Ishkaran Singh Bhandari met Home Minister Mr Rajnath Singh and accused Twitter of ‘discriminatory and unfair practices’ that were a threat to national security. He also said that the platform was suspending accounts that were either supporting ‘Indic ideas or the current government’.
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT and BJP Vice President commented “Twitter India needs to understand that India is a democracy and not a banana republic. The Chairman of the Standing Committee on IT has received complaints that there is discrimination against people of a certain ideology. There are efforts to suppress that ideology. This policy of Twitter is against democracy. This is a kind of undeclared censorship. It is our duty as member of Standing Committee on IT to protect rights of people on social media platforms.”
However, the opposition has countered that it is the BJP that has deployed double standards on the issue. Kapil Sibal, Former IT Minister and Congress leader, said, “It is unfortunate that the people who kept on trolling before and after 2014 are now complaining that their voices are not being heard. I sympathise with them. All ideologies should be allowed on Twitter. Twitter should tell what their policy is on such matters.”
PEAS IN A POD
The issues are not exclusive to Twitter alone, which is looking for a leader to manage its India operations. All social media apps are in a bind at the moment as they prepare for the world’s largest elections.
Facebook India has brought in a six-member board, bringing the country on the same level as its headquarters in Menlo Park. Facebook’s messenger service WhatsApp was warned all political parties that they should not misuse its platform, or else its service could be banned.
Moreover, WhatsApp communications head Carl Wook commented that it would be impossible to give encrypted messages as stated in the draft rules released by the government. He said that it would require them to re-architect the entire product. The rules require tech companies to monitor and give personal data of the users, and also remove content that is deemed illegal within 24 hours.
In fact, the Asia Internet Coalition, a lobby group that counts Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, as its members has described the laws as “intrusive to an individual’s freedom of speech and expression and right to privacy”.
Instead, WhatsApp has said that it will use AI tools to identify accounts sending bulk messages. It has banned 2 million out of 1.5 billion monthly active users globally over the past three months for suspicious activity.
AN OPPORTUNITY IN CRISIS
Indeed the Indian elections this time will truly test the ability of social media firms to prevent misuse of their platforms. The playfield is way larger than 2014, when PM Modi effectively used social media to become a larger brand than even his own party.
Social media is expected to account for around Rs 12,000 crore of ad spends during these elections. Nearly all political party leaders are on Twitter now, making it highly competitive and even prone to greater misuse.
India offers a challenge much grander than the other markets. For instance, Facebook blocked hundreds of thousands of accounts in Brazil during the October elections there. Brazil only has 129 million Facebook users compared to 294 million for India.
It must be noted that the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google are facing these issues across the world. They are being accused of misusing their dominant positions in the market, and face increasing regulatory pressure.
In such a scenario the Indian elections are both a crisis and an opportunity for them to develop solutions that can help tackle similar issues in the other markets. After all, if it can be implemented in India, it can be implemented anywhere!