India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has sent a strongly worded notice to US microblogging platform Twitter, for affixing the “manipulated media” tag to tweets by BJP leaders countering a toolkit put out by the rival Congress party to criticise the government.
The ministry has asked Twitter to remove the “prejudicial” tag in the interest of “fairness and equity”.
The government’s notice comes after Twitter tagged a May 18 post by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as “manipulated media”, in which Patra alleged that the Congress had circulated a document that outlined ways to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
An official familiar with the matter said that in its communication, the ministry has stated that a complaint has already been made by one of the concerned parties before local law enforcement and the veracity of the toolkit is under investigation.
The ministry has stated that Twitter’s decision to use the manipulated media tag appears “prejudged and prejudiced”.
“While the local law enforcement agency is undertaking the investigation to determine the veracity of the ‘tookit’, Twitter has unilaterally drawn a conclusion in this matter and arbitrarily tagged it as Manipulated Media. Such tagging by Twitter appears prejudged, prejudiced and a deliberate attempt to colour the investigation by local law enforcement agency,” the ministry has said in its notice to the US social media giant.
The BJP alleged the toolkit was aimed at building a biased narrative over the Indian government’s handling of the second wave of Covid-19, and the Central Vista Project. Many top BJP leaders, including its chief JP Nadda and Union ministers Smriti Irani, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Hardeep Puri, Anurag Thakur, Piyush Goyal, amplified Patra’s tweet.
Congress accused the BJP of concocting the document on Covid-19 to defame the opposition party. It wrote to Twitter on Thursday seeking action against Patra and other BJP leaders for “grossly misusing” the platform. The Congress accused the BJP of indulging in “large-scale dissemination of false information”, which “has the potential to cause social unrest in the country”.
The Ministry has termed the “unilateral action by Twitter as an effort to influence the fair investigation process and a clear overreach, which is totally unwarranted”. It further added that the action dilutes the credibility of the platform. “This action not only dilutes the credibility of Twitter as a neutral and unbiased platform facilitating exchange of views by the users but also puts a question mark on the status of Twitter as an “Intermediary”.
Patra, on May 18, had tweeted, “Friends look at the #CongressToolKit in extending help to the needy during the Pandemic! More of a PR exercise with the help of “Friendly Journalists” & “Influencers” than a soulful endeavour. Read for yourselves the agenda of the Congress: #CongressToolKitExposed”.
A similar tweet by Shefali Vaidya has also been marked as manipulated media. “Another #CongressToolKit inspired move? #CongressToolkitExposed,” Vaidya tweeted on May 18, alleging that the “missing persons” complaint filed by NSUI was inspired by the “toolkit”.