The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology in India issued summons for Twitter's TWTR CEO or his second in command to appear before it, as well as the IT Ministry on Feb 11, as part of its investigations into citizens' rights on "social or online media."
The specific issue at hand is Twitter's tendency to suspend accounts related to right wing voices and the manipulation of its "trending topics" against them, including supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The committee is reportedly acting on a complaint by a group of 20 people who have provided documentary evidence on the issue, seeking redressal.
Twitter initially refused to respond to media questioning on the issue other than the fact that it "does not take any action based upon political views". It later said the following:
"Trends are not determined by the total number of Tweets on a topic alone - the total number of Tweets is just one factor when ranking and determining trends. A very important factor in determining trends is the number of Tweets in a given time period (i.e. velocity), which is not necessarily related to the total number of Tweets (i.e. volume)."
"Given the short notice of the hearing, we informed the Committee that it would not be possible for senior officials from Twitter to travel from the United States to appear on Monday. Our CEO, Jack Dorsey, and other senior Twitter executives visited India in recent weeks because it is an important market for Twitter and we value the growing interest in Twitter in India."
Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's global lead for Legal, Policy, Trust & Safety, has written to the committee, saying, "No one who engages publicly for Twitter India makes enforcement decisions with respect to our rules for content or accounts in India." This is why attendance by senior officials became necessary.
"We want to reiterate that we not only have deep respect for India's parliamentary process, we are also committed to serving the people who use Twitter in the Indian market."
"India is the world's largest democracy and one of our largest and fastest-growing audience markets globally. We are committed to surfacing all sides of the conversation as we enter the election season in this extraordinarily perse cultural, political and social climate." (to The Indian Express)
The government is not happy with Twitter's response:
New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi told reporters on Saturday, "In any country, no agency has the right to disrespect the institutions of that country. In this situation, if Twitter is disrespecting the established institution of Parliament, then there are repercussions… because in any democratic country, institutions need to be respected by world powers… Such things are not to be allowed in any country."
Twitter's Bias Is Nothing New
This writer has seen numerous complaints of disappearing followers and tweets on the platform and @jack being marked on those complaints. But Twitter has continued its own way. So while it may be hard to travel internationally at short notice, the issue isn't something that has suddenly come out of the blue to hit the CEO in the middle of his eyes. It is something he has known for a long time and decided to do nothing about.
It is also striking that usually people who research and provide evidence of the true history and heritage of India are attacked this way. At the same time, people spreading misinformation about Indian history are celebrated by the platform. National pride is the thing that pushes citizens to defend the country, so this is a national security issue.
On the other hand, in the absence of a local alternative, Twitter isn't something the government can quickly ban, because it is truly the best way to break news that you want to spread very fast, an imperative in our increasingly digital lives. This is probably the thing saving Twitter thus far.
Twitter was accused of something similar in the U.S. last year and Jack Dorsey was even asked to appear before Congress, but the wily individual denied the charges with a straight face.
He continues to give himself a C for the way he has handled issues, and agrees with the fact that abuse on the platform should be handled better (without providing specifics), at the same time reiterating that the company has made progress on promoting conversational health (but no one knows how). Reminds one of Facebook FB CEO Mark Zuckerberg's poker face and of how Alphabet GOOGL had problems sending a representative to attend the government's meeting. Technology companies truly have too much power for anyone's good.
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