Congress objects as Twitter locks accounts of party, key leaders

Accounts of senior leaders such as Randeep Singh Surjewala, Ajay Maken, Sushmita Dev and Manickam Tagore were temporarily locked, Congress functionaries familiar with the matter said. The party’s official handle was also barred from posting, they added.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with party chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala addressing a press conference in New Delhi. (HT file photo)
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with party chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala addressing a press conference in New Delhi. (HT file photo)
Updated on Aug 13, 2021 05:26 AM IST
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ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

New Delhi: Nearly 5,000 twitter accounts, including those of several senior Congress leaders and the party’s official handle, were temporarily locked on Thursday after they shared a photograph of Rahul Gandhi meeting a minor rape victim’s family — his account was already locked on Saturday — even as the party mounted an attack on the Central government for scuttling free speech. The microblogging platform, however, maintains that it “impartially” enforces its rules and terms of service.

Accounts of senior leaders such as Randeep Singh Surjewala, Ajay Maken, Sushmita Dev and Manickam Tagore were temporarily locked, Congress functionaries familiar with the matter said. The party’s official handle was also barred from posting, they added.

The party’s social media head Rohan Gupta said “Twitter is acting under govt pressure. It has already blocked 5000 accounts of our leaders and workers across India”.

“They need to understand we can’t be pressurised by Twitter or government,” he added

Gupta said he has started the campaign “I too am Rahul” in light of Twitter’s action to temporarily lock the former Congress chief’s account , which he claimed was singling out Gandhi. “If a government body can post a similar picture without being actioned, then why is Rahul Gandhi being singled out?”His reference was to a post by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes wherein a similar photograph of the family was shared.

The tweet in question has been withheld from public view.

Twitter said that it enforces its rules judiciously and impartially. “Twitter rules are enforced judiciously and impartially for everyone on our service. We have taken proactive action on several hundred Tweets that posted an image that violated our Rules, and may continue to do so in line with our range of enforcement options,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “Certain types of private information carry higher risks than others, and our aim is always to protect individuals’ privacy and safety. We strongly encourage everyone on the service to familiarise themselves with the Twitter Rules and report anything they believe is in violation.”

Twitter admitted that it was alerted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) about the tweet which revealed the victim’s identity. It added that it reviewed the tweet against Twitter rules and policies, as well as the concerns expressed as a matter of the Indian law.

The NCPCR has moved the Delhi High Court over the issue.

The incident came to light on Saturday after the opposition party tweeted that the former Congress party chief had been barred from posting from his account.

The Congress first said Gandhi’s account was suspended. “Shri @RahulGandhi’s Twitter account has been temporarily suspended & due process is being followed for its restoration. Until then, he will stay connected with you all through his other SM platforms & continue to raise his voice for our people & fight for their cause. Jai Hind,” Congress’ official handle posted on the microblogging website on date.

It later clarified that the account was temporarily locked.

When an account is locked, under Twitter’s enforcement guidelines, the account holder is barred from posting any new updates. To unlock the account, the post in question needs to be deleted.

NCPCR asked the Delhi Police and Twitter last Wednesday to take action against Gandhi over a photograph he posted after meeting the family of the nine-year-old girl who was raped and killed.

The child rights body said the tweet violated the Juvenile Justice Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act. Gandhi met the girl’s family last week and assured his support. “Parents’ tears are saying only one thing -- their daughter, the daughter of this country, deserves justice. And I am with them on this path to justice,” Gandhi tweeted in Hindi and posted the photo of his meeting with the girl’s relatives.

Twitter has taken down the post. “When we determine that a Tweet violated the Twitter Rules, we require the violator to remove it before they can Tweet again. We send an email notification to the violator identifying the Tweet(s) in violation and which policies have been violated. They will then need to go through the process of removing the violating Tweet or appealing our review if they believe we made an error,” the enforcement page states.

Experts on the subject are split, with some arguing that Gandhi’s tweet is in violation of Indian law and Twitter’s actions are justified. Kazim Rizvi, founder of the policy think tank The Dialogue, said that Gandhi’s tweet violates Section 23 (2) of POCSO Act and Section 74 of Juvenile Justice Act, which outlaws the disclosure of any sensitive information about child victim of rape. “This law has been reinforced by Justice Deepak Gupta of the Supreme Court in Nipun Saxena vs Union of India wherein the court provided exhaustive guidleines to prohibit disclosure of personal information regarding a rape victim including those who are deceased in order to protect their dignity,” he said. “Posting pictures with the family of a rape victim poses concerns regarding the safety and security of the family. This is violative of both the terms of service of platforms and also the global best practices on Platform Regulation. Towards this, the action by Twitter is in accordance with the Indian laws and its own Rules.”

Rizvi added that the accounts have only been temporarily locked, and not suspended, as per Twitter’s rules. “It requires the account holders to remove the violative Tweet. Once the tweet is deleted, the account is reinstated,” he said.

Supreme Court lawyer Sourav Roy said that one has to take cognizance of the context of the tweet. “It is important to highlight the plight of a victim’s family,” he said. “This is minor Dalit girl and the police were harassing victim’s family. If Gandhi’s visit aimed to highlight the plight of the victim then there is no hard and fast rule that he should not be allowed to post such a photograph. One has to understand the law and not just follow it blindly.”

Roy added that Gandhi’s tweet in no way attempted to jeopardize the family of the victim. “The larger question that needs to be addressed here is whether companies like Twitter should be allowed to wield so much power.”

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Friday, May 27, 2022