You may have seen the CEO of certain social media services being trialed for suspicious activities but what Delhi Police did yesterday is beyond the usual. Delhi Police stormed the offices of Twitter India in Delhi and Gurugram on Monday, 24th May 2021. This action done by the police was obviously directed by the central government. Delhi Police’s Special Cell raided Twitter India’s offices seeking a ‘clarification’ on the social media giant’s decision to label BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet as ‘manipulative media’.
On May 18, a Twitter handle named ‘Team Bharat’ released a tweet exposing an ‘alleged’ toolkit made by the All India Congress Committee to defame the government and particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The supposed toolkit consists of eight pages, four of which are a social media campaign that instructs Congress workers to tweet using the terms ‘Modi strain’ and ‘Super spreader Kumbh’. It also tells its supporters and volunteers to refrain from commenting on Eid gatherings and to respond to COVID-19 SOS messages only if they ‘tag the IYC handle’. The other four pages are a research document on issues with the Central Vista project. Soon after, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra retweeted this. Over the next two days, several BJP and RSS leaders, including Smriti Irani, Tirath Singh Rawat, Piyush Goyal, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Tejasvi Surya, Kiren Rijiju, Anurag Thakur, PC Mohan, Hardeep Singh Puri and Shobha Karandlaje, retweeted this using the hashtag #CongressToolKitExposed
AltNews, fact-checking platform, deemed the ‘toolkit’ as fake. While the research conducted by the AICC research department is legitimate, the first four pages have been forged on the Congress letterhead. Altnews explained that the letterhead of the Central Vista document and COVID-19 toolkit does not match. The fonts and the formatting are different show a clear difference in the documents. Following all of this chaos, Congress filed an FIR against those who retweeted this alleged toolkit and against Sambit Patra.
Consequently, Twitter labeled Patra’s tweet as ‘manipulative media’, for it really was but this enraged BJP and all of its supporters on social media. The Centre asked Twitter to take down the manipulative media tag from Patra’s tweet which the social media company did not. The central government (read: BJP) labeled Twitter’s actions to be arbitrary when it didn’t comply to their orders of not marking fake news as fake news. As a result of the pretext on ‘enquiry’, they took action and raided several of its offices in the NCR region and Gurugram.
Although this action of raiding offices is an infringement of the right to freedom of expression but to feel sympathy for Twitter India due to its own previous actions or inactions, has become difficult. The Centre’s relationship with Twitter has forever been sound as Twitter serves as the primary platform through or on which propaganda of magnanimous degree unfolds across India. Twitter also removes and bans, shadow-bans prominent accounts which question the government. It was only a few months ago during the farmer’s protest that Twitter was banning/suspending platforms such as The Caravan Magazine, Kisan Ekta Morcha, and that of many leaders for raising their voices for the farmers against the government. Twitter showing backbone to the central government’s oppressive authoritarianism is something very new and like every other entity which stands against the government, it too was punished.