Twitter blocks Congress’s official handles, several leaders’ accounts

It cites violation of policy; Last week, it removed a tweet and blocked Rahul’s account

August 12, 2021 10:30 am | Updated 07:10 pm IST - New Delhi:

Congress leaders Randeep Surjewala and Ajay Maken. File photo

Congress leaders Randeep Surjewala and Ajay Maken. File photo

A virtual war erupted between Twitter India and the Congress on Thursday after the social media platform blocked the party’s official handle and the accounts of several senior leaders. Twitter also blocked the party’s Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra handles, besides that of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee and the Daman & Diu Congress Committee.

The move comes just days after Twitter blocked former Congress president Rahul Gandhi for posting a photograph of the parents of a nine-year-old girl who was allegedly raped and murdered in Delhi.

In defiance, party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra changed her display picture to Mr. Gandhi’s, while others like Youth Congress chief B.V. Srinivas changed both his display picture as well the name of his handle to Rahul Gandhi.

By late Wednesday evening, prominent leaders whose handles had been suspended by Twitter for violating its policy included Randeep Surjewala, K.C. Venugopal, Ajay Maken, Sushmita Dev, Bhanwar Jitendra Singh and Lok Sabha member Manickam Tagore among others.

Also read: Twitter has ‘prima facie’ complied with new IT Rules, Centre tells Delhi HC

All these leaders’ as well as the Congress’s handle had shared the same photograph in solidarity with Mr. Gandhi.

Breaking his silence on the Twitter episode, Mr. Gandhi said on Instagram, “If fighting for justice for murder and rape victim is a crime, then I am guilty. They can lock us out on a platform but they can't lock our voice for the sake of the people”.

Party leaders claimed that not just prominent leaders but ‘thousands of handles associated with the Congress have been blocked by Twitter.

Last week, Twitter removed Mr. Gandhi’s tweet along with the photo, as sharing of photos of a victim or her relatives is barred under the Indian Law.

Double standards: Congress

However, the Congress targeted Twitter for adopting “double standards” , since functionaries of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) had shared similar photos with the parents of the victims but no action was taken against them.

Ms Vadra said on Twitter, “Is Twitter following its own policy for the suspension of Congress leaders’ accounts or the Modi government’s? Why hadn’t it locked the account of SC commission that had tweeted similar photos before any of our leaders did? By locking Congress leaders’ accounts en masse, Twitter is blatantly colluding with the stifling of democracy by the BJP government in India”.

When The Hindu checked the timeline of the NCSC, the offending photograph from August 2 was removed for violation of Twitter’s policy. The account was, however, functional as the handle tweeted about a public hearing by a member at 3:19 p.m. on August 12.

Congress leader and chairman of the parliamentary panel on information technology Shashi Tharoor said he “understood” Twitter’s position about automatically blocking accounts that violated the law and their policy, but added that Twitter could review its policy as Mr. Gandhi’s action was a “technical violation of the law”.

“Action taken against a prominent Opposition leader raises obvious concerns of selectivity&bias. I urge @Twitter to restore @RahulGandhi’s account, review the policy of automatic suspensions & show more sensitivity to public concerns. Focus on what happened to the girl, not a pic!” he said.

Twitter’s response

Replying to a query on the development, a Twitter spokesperson said the ‘Twitter Rules’ were enforced judiciously and impartially for everyone on its service.

According to the company, they were alerted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights about specific content on the platform that allegedly revealed the identity of an alleged sexual assault victim’s (and a minor’s) parents. This was reviewed against its rules and policies, as well as the concerns expressed as a matter of the Indian law.

“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. Certain types of private information carry higher risks than others, and our aim is always to protect individuals’ privacy and safety,” the spokesperson said, adding that the platform strongly encouraged everyone on the service to familiarise themselves with its rules and report anything they believed was in violation.

When a tweet is found to be in violation of Twitter Rules, and has yet to be deleted by the account holder, it is hidden behind a notice and the account remains locked until the tweet is removed or the appeal is successfully processed.

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