Twitter is the cop looking the other way

Updated: Nov 10, 2019, 07:19 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Senior SC advocate Sanjay Hegde, who slapped a legal notice on Twitter India for suspending his account twice, explains his problem with the policing

Illustration/ Uday Mohite
Illustration/ Uday Mohite

It hasn't been a pleasant fortnight for Twitter India. The micro-blogging website has been called out for playing favourites, turning a blind eye to right wing hate speech and suspending the accounts of those who dissent on the platform.

It all started when Twitter temporarily suspended Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde's account on October 26, over his cover photo of German national, August Landmesser, refusing to give the Nazi salute to Hitler. Once Hegde had removed the image, his account was restored, only to be suspended a day later. This time, it was over a 2017 tweet by journalist Kavita Krishnan that he had shared, which had Gorakh Pandey's poem Usko Phaansi Do. Krishnan's original post, however, continues to remain on the platform.

Following this, Hegde received an email from Twitter, asking him to delete the tweet in order to have his account restored. Convinced that there was "organised reporting" against his post, Hegde decided to appeal against the suspension. Earlier this week, he received an email from Twitter stating that his appeal against the suspension of the account had been dismissed.

Speaking with mid-day, Hegde, a free speech absolutist, who has now issued a legal notice to Twitter India, as well as the I&B Ministry, prodding them to take action.

Hegde describes the current Twitter environment as toxic. "A lot of hate speech flies under the radar because it is in Hindi or other Indian regional languages. Take the word K2A, for example. It refers to circumcision as in 'katwa'." He added, "There is a general atmosphere which emboldens the right wing to think that they can say anything and get away with it."

Twitter has set up guidelines to combat hate speech and extremist views, and has even put in AI bots to police the platform. "But now, these bots are being gamed by mass reporting. This is where the organised IT right wing cells seem to have capitalised or exploited the situation in a more virulent manner over the past few months. Maybe Twitter doesn't have policies to genuinely protect speech that reeks of dissent."

When asked if the liberal left is under threat on Twitter, Hegde said, "On Twitter, it is easy to have online mobs that want to lynch free speech. Twitter is the policeman that seems to be looking the other way." He denied the existence of a right wing lobby on the platform, and chooses to call it an "organised online mob" that wants to "boost one kind of speech and shut down others." "It is time for Twitter to decide whether it wants other users to use the platform or if they want them to migrate."

Calling out the bias over Twitter's moderation methods, some of India's influential users have created their Mastadon accounts. The little known social media network has been trending in India, after Hegde's account was suspended. Users believe that Mastadon's anti-abuse systems are far more airtight than Twitter's.

"It was my comment about how I was contemplating moving to Mastadon, which probably triggered it [the trend]," said Hegde. "I like to have a conversation with the world, and if Twitter is not available for that purpose, I'll move to Mastadon or anywhere else where the experience is better and safer.

"Twitter has not been fair to me. They have not even reached out to me in person."

Hegde said that he'd appreciate if Twitter India justifies its action against him. "If they don't, I will be compelled to take them to a forum where they will have to offer some justification. And that will cost them."

When contacted, Twitter India said that it had explained itself online, and did not want to comment further.

The other side

In a series of tweets shared on its official handle on Thursday, Twitter India said, "There's been a lot of discussion this week about Twitter's perceived bias in India. To be clear, whether it's the development of policies, product features, or enforcement of our rules, we are impartial and do not take action based upon any ideology or political viewpoint."

"Twitter's commitment to inclusion and diversity is fundamental to who we are and crucial to the effectiveness of our service... Media depicting hateful imagery is not permitted within live video, account bio, profile or header images. Twitter has a higher standard in some areas like profile or header images, where there is limited context (unlike a Tweet that may contain an image with accompanying text)."

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