Rahul blames Twitter for restricting followers ‘under govt pressure’

Updated on Jan 27, 2022 04:38 AM IST

Gandhi added that it was perplexing that the growth in Twitter followers had suddenly been “suppressed”. “With nearly 20 million followers, my Twitter account has been active, adding an average of nearly eight to ten thousand new followers every day. This had been the case for every year until July 2021.”

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi added that many other accounts, including government accounts, tweeted the same photograph but no action was taken against them. (AP)
Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi added that many other accounts, including government accounts, tweeted the same photograph but no action was taken against them. (AP)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi

New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has written to Twitter, saying that his reach appeared to have been limited on the social media company’s platform amid unsaid restrictions on the number of his followers after “pressure by the government to silence my voice”, people aware of the matter said on Wednesday.

One of Gandhi’s tweets was recently banned for violating Twitter’s content guidelines.

“I want to bring your attention to what I believe is Twitter’s unwitting complicity in curbing free and fair speech in India… I have been reliably, albeit discreetly, informed by people at Twitter India that they are under immense pressure by the government to silence my voice,” Gandhi wrote in his letter to Twitter CEO Parag Aggarwal in December. HT has seen a copy of the letter.

A spokesperson of the ministry of electronics and information technology did not respond to a request for a comment on the matter.

“The ideological battle between liberal democracy and authoritarianism across the world is being shaped on social media platforms. This places a huge responsibility on those that are at the helm of companies such as Twitter,” Gandhi added.

The development was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Gandhi added that it was perplexing that the growth in Twitter followers had suddenly been “suppressed”. “With nearly 20 million followers, my Twitter account has been active, adding an average of nearly eight to ten thousand new followers every day. This had been the case for every year until July 2021.”

In August, Gandhi shared a photograph and a video with the parents of a nine-year-old Dalit girl who was allegedly raped and murdered, with the Bharatiya Janata Party launching an attack against him for being “insensitive” and attempting to “gain political mileage”. Gandhi was temporarily suspended from accessing his account. Twitter subsequently blocked the post in India, though it remains accessible outside the country, and his access to his account was restored. Gandhi later revealed that he had permission from the girl’s parents to post their picture.

In his letter, Gandhi said that, since August, his average monthly followers fell to zero. “There is an inflection point after which my Twitter account seems to have been paralysed,” he said. “Perhaps not so coincidentally, it was in these same months that I raised the plight of a rape victim in Delhi. I have been reliably, albeit discreetly informed, by people at Twitter that they have been under immense pressure by the government to silence my voice.”

He added that many other accounts, including government accounts, tweeted the same photograph but no action was taken against them.

In its response to HT, Twitter said: “As part of our ongoing and global efforts to encourage healthy conversation on Twitter, every part of the service matters. Follower counts are a visible feature, and we want everyone to have confidence that the numbers are meaningful and accurate. Twitter has a zero-tolerance approach to platform manipulation and spam. We fight spam and malicious automation strategically and at scale with machine learning tools, and as part of those consistent and ongoing efforts to ensure a healthy service and credible accounts, follower counts can and do fluctuate.”

It added: “We remove millions of accounts each week for violating our policies on platform manipulation and spam. You can take a look at our latest Twitter Transparency Center update for more context. While some accounts notice a minor difference, in certain cases the number could be higher.”

“This is neither a fully explanatory nor a satisfactory response,” said Srivatsa YB, incharge of digital communication for Gandhi’s office.

According to associate litigation counsel at Internet Freedom Foundation, Krishnesh, the allegations posed a grave concern. “If Twitter is engaging in shadow-banning, it is acting contrary to Rule 4(8) of IT Rules, 2021, which mandates Twitter to inform the user prior to removing/disabling the account of that user. It is also worth noting that Twitter in 2018 had stated that they do not shadow-ban. Thus, Twitter ought to explain why there was a sudden reduction in the average monthly followers of Mr Gandhi,” he said.

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