The last year and a half have been nothing but trouble for social media giants Facebook and Twitter. The two have constantly fielded questions over data security and even faced scrutiny over allegations of playing a part in influencing results of crucial elections worldwide.
While there is no doubt that Facebook has been the cause of the majority of such concerns, Twitter – and its CEO Jack Dorsey – have had to face uncomfortable questions too over their perceived inability to keep a check on the spread of fake news and hate speech – both tools of influencing public perception – on its platform.
To its credit, Twitter reacted to such concerns and put in effect a plan to remove millions of bot and fake accounts found to be using the platform to spread unverified news and hateful content. But as it turns out, the move soon turned into a political hot potato.
One that Twitter and its board were ill-equipped to handle.
Over the last few months, Twitter – and its CEO Jack Dorsey – have had to face many uncomfortable questions. (Photo: Reuters)
Calls of bias
In its attempts to clean up the platform, Twitter has over the past few months removed over tens of millions of alleged fake accounts – many of which happened to be following the verified accounts of known right-wing political parties and leaders. Logically, many of these accounts were found to be furthering a right-wing agenda.
This is where the real problem started for Twitter.
The removal of these accounts from the platform was seen by many as being unjust to the right-wing – a charge that, at one point of time, morphed into something even more sinister, with Twitter even being accused of shadow banning millions of users in an alleged attempt to clamp down on right-wing free-speech.
Soon enough, the allegations took on a life of their own, and Twitter's CEO, Jack Dorsey, had to appear in front of the US Congress to firefight the situation by pleading not guilty to charges of the platform being biased against conservatives in the country.
As it stands, the conversation has now found its way to our shores, with right-wing users of Twitter now alleging bias against them, ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Earlier last week, pictures were seen of members from "Youth for Social Democracy" protesting outside Twitter India’s office against what they claim to be Twitter's "anti-right wing attitude."
Delhi: Members of 'Youth for Social Media Democracy' protest outside the office of Twitter India. Protesters say "Twitter has acquired an anti-right wing attitude. They block our accounts & impressions of the tweets. We won't tolerate this, they will have to change their policy." pic.twitter.com/rsgTO99uWx— ANI (@ANI) February 3, 2019
Twitter vs Parliament
With many influential voices from within the BJP and the RSS also alleging bias, the government has now gotten involved in the issue, with the Parliamentary panel on information technology (IT) deciding to "summon" Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on February 25.
Led by BJP MP Anurag Thakur, the panel is apparently examining the issue of “safeguarding citizens’ rights on social/online news media platforms”. However, in its attempts to do so, it has found itself caught in an unnecessary stand-off with the social media giant.
It all started when the panel first invited Twitter and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to talk about the issue on February 11, 2019.
The Parliamentary Commitee on Information Technology will examine the issue:SAFEGUARDING CITIZENS RIGHTS ON SOCIAL/ONLINE NEWS MEDIA PLATFORMSMEITY & TWITTER will present their views.You can tweet/email your views:email@example.com pic.twitter.com/bDYoSv5OHd— Anurag Thakur (@ianuragthakur) February 5, 2019
However, when Twitter's CEO failed to turn up for the meeting, and instead sent members from Twitter's team in India, things quickly turned sour.
The Parliamentary panel refused not only to meet the team, but sent a stern message to Twitter and its board.
Speaking to the media, Thakur said “We had summoned the global CEO, he did not appear but sent junior executives... The panel has taken this very seriously and if Dorsey still failes to appear, Twitter would be seen as breaching parliamentary privilege."
Mountain out of a molehill?
For Twitter's part, it has explained that it has "deep respect for India’s Parliamentary process" and is also committed to serving the people who use Twitter in the Indian market. To douse the rising fires flamed by allegations of bias, the company has made its stance clear by underlining that all its decisions are fair and impartial.
It even shot off a series of tweets and published a post on its blog to convey this message to millions of its users in India.
There has been a lot of discussion about Twitter and political partisanship in India in recent weeks and we would like to take a moment to set the record straight. https://t.co/EHl1xbRpMl— Twitter India (@TwitterIndia) February 8, 2019
For what it's worth, Twitter has in the past issued statements that it is putting in checks and balances to ensure that the platform is not used to influence the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
As such, the Parliamentary panel's insistence on fighting the cause of deleted fake accounts appears to have come at a time when it could be fighting many other important battles and doing its bit to fight the spread of fake news – and not fight for the survival of the accounts that propagate it.
Not only does its decision to get into a stand-off with Twitter dent India's image on the global platform, but it also takes away from the real conversation around the issue of curbing fake news and hate speech, both issues Twitter cannot fight without the government's support.