The officers of India’s elite anti-terrorism police unit raided the offices of Twitter in New Delhi at dusk with towed television news cameras. Their mission: Start an argument about fake news.
The offices closed empty amid India’s devastating coronavirus outbreak. And police admitted they were there to deliver nothing more legally binding than a notice disputing a warning label that Twitter had assigned to some tweets.
But symbolically, the visit of the police on Monday night sent a clear message that India’s powerful ruling party is becoming increasingly upset over Twitter due to the perception that the company has sided with the critics of the government. As anger erupted across the country over India’s stumbling response to the pandemic, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party struggled to control the story.
As a result, top Indian political leaders have put increasing pressure on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms that people use to air their complaints. In doing so, they follow the path of some other countries trying to control how and where messages can spread on social media. In March, for example, the Russian government said it would delay access to Twitter, one of the few places where Russians openly criticize the government.
The police visit “illustrates the extent to which state machinery can be brought to power by the party to quell the opposing voices and deal with the opposition,” said Gilles Verniers, a professor of political science at Ashoka University near New Delhi.
“Regardless of the clumsy way it has been carried out, this raid is an increase in the suffocation of domestic criticism in India,” he said.
The police visit, for example, was offset by labels that Twitter applied to tweets posted by senior members of the party, called the BJP
Party leaders have posted documents they call irrefutable evidence that opposition politicians planned to use India’s stumbling coronavirus response to kill Mr. Modi and tar the reputation of India itself.
But Twitter undermined the campaign when it described the posts as ‘manipulated media’. Indian watchdog groups for information said the documents are counterfeit.
In the course of Twitter, the BJP is focusing on one of the most important ways in which people in India are pleading for help, as infections start to increase in April and people start dying thousands a day. Hospital beds, medicines and supplemental oxygen have become precious products. Online networks have sprung up on Twitter and other social media platforms for volunteers to connect desperate patients with supplies.
The second wave of coronavirus peaked on May 6 – 414188 new infections. Since then, cases have dropped by almost half, but the total death toll, 303,720, is still rising.
The BJP is no slouch on social media. Under Mr. Modi used it on social media in a spectacular way, driving his Hindu nationalist agenda to corners of the country and downplaying his opponents.
But as dissenting voices increase and the BJP’s tolerance of differences of opinion diminishes, it uses strict tactics to enter the platforms.
This month, the government has ordered on social media platforms, including Twitter, to take down dozens of posts that are critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic.
In February, when an agricultural protest against agricultural change captured the imagination of the public, the company conceded to the demands of the government and blocked the accounts of 500 people accused of making inflammatory remarks about Mr.
Last summer, India banned TikTok, WeChat and dozens of other Chinese apps, citing national security issues.
Although Mr. Modi’s government controls the police in Delhi, it was not clear on Tuesday that the failed mission at the Twitter office took place at her command.
A BJP spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Twitter spokesperson asked questions in an email that remained unanswered.
On May 18, BJP spokesman Sambit Patra tweeted the photo of a document he described as plans by the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, to make the government look bad.
The message of mr. Patra has been retweeted more than 5,000 times, among others by ministers in mr. Modi’s government and party leaders.
Harsh Vardhan, the Indian Minister of Health, used the hashtag #CongressToolkitExposed to chase the opposition party.
“It is deplorable to spread misinformation during this global catastrophe, only to let their dwindling political destinies rise at the expense of people’s suffering,” Dr. Vardhan tweeted.
In addition to the fact that the plans were false, there was a doctor on old letterheads, independent fact-checking organizations and the Congress Party said, which produced a police report against Mr. Patra and another BJP leader submitted. Last Thursday, Twitter stepped in and labeled the tweet ‘manipulated media’ – provoking the anger of government supporters who demanded that the Indian government ban the company.
Many blame the disaster that India is now experiencing, the blame on the government. As business increased in March, Mr. Modi is campaigning for state elections. His government concluded a religious festival that drew millions of Hindus to the banks of the Ganges River.
Mr. Modi, who delivered regular, exciting national addresses during the first wave of affairs, became less visible during the second wave. Many Indians feel abandoned. As local pandemic locks are still in place, rather than going on the streets, protesters are restricted to social media.
The space is getting smaller, digital rights advocates and advocates of public interest have said.
Last month, as the number of viral infections and deaths skyrocketed, at least 25 people were arrested after hanging posters in Delhi questioning India’s decision to carry out vaccinations abroad.
The posters were made by the ruling party in Delhi, another party in opposition to the BJP, according to a party member, Durgesh Pathak.
“In a democracy, it is not wrong to ask a question,” he said. Pathak said. “I’m not abusing anyone. I do not incite anyone to violence. I do not ask anyone to do wrong things. I put a question to the Prime Minister of my country. ‘
Hari Kumar contribution made.