The official Twitter account of Prime Minister’s Office in India (@PMOIndia) was renamed to @PMOIndiaArchive allegedly under the RTI Act.

Former communications adviser to the PM, Pankaj Pachauri tweeted out a statement (see below) justifying the move. “Copyrights and control remain with the Prime Minister’s office. These are PMO properties and the Prime Minister’s office continues to manage them. The handover is being facilitated for the next administration. This is the first time such handover is taking place,” the statement read.

The @PMOIndia account seems to have been taken up by a squatter as of now and Twitter users have been debating since yesterday on what should have been done and what needs to be done. Update:The account was briefly held by a 19-year old Qaiser Ali. More about that on BBC.

According to our sources, the @PMOIndia account has now been secured by Twitter and is no longer owned by a squatter.

The biggest issue here is that former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh did not have any account on Twitter. The PMOIndia account instead used his name and photo as the display picture. The PMOIndiaArchive account seems to follow the same policy.

Different accounts needed for PMOIndia and the Prime Minister

I always felt this strategy adopted by UPA was strange as there is a difference between the individual and the organization he represents. Look at what US does, President Barack Obama has his own Twitter account and White House has a separate account. The reason why the two needs to be kept separate seems pretty logical to me. On one side you want to know what Prime Minister as the individual thinks and does and then you also want to subscribe to official announcements from PM’s office. Now since our PM was a man of few words, the UP regime had rolled both these accounts into one. Even then, Dr Singh never posted any tweets personally on this account. The new Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the other hand has a separate account.

Twitter should play referee

This sounds unorthodox, but the only party that can provide some direction to this debate is Twitter. It needs to answer if PMOIndia was verified as the official account of Prime Minister’s Office or as the official account of Dr Singh. If it was verified as the personal account of Dr Manmohan Singh then the present team has the right to do whatever it feels with the account. On the other hand, if it was verified as the official account of PMOIndia, then the steps taken by Pachauri’s team stops making sense.

PMOarchive-twitter

How should one archive tweets?

The current approach seems to be short sighted. For example, what happens when Narendra Modi resigns as Prime Minister. If BJP was expected to follow the same procedure for archiving tweets what should they rename the account to? PMOIndiaArchive2? Do keep in mind that there is no way to merge Twitter accounts as of now.

It is strange that PMOIndia did not use the archiving tool offered by Twitter, create a backup and then put it up for RTI purposes? If it was an official account and they have nothing to hide, then why not put up all tweets and DMs on Prime Minsiter’s website? Opening up the entire data would have been the best strategy if RTI was such a concern.

What should Narendra Modi do?

Modi’s team has done a great job with his Twitter account and his digital presence altogether. Due to this, his account has more followers than PMOIndia had. That being the case, Modi should continue using his personal account to engage with the public and use the PMOIndia account for more official purposes.

Earlier Twitter handle disputes

This is not the first time that someone has brought up the issue of ownership of a Twitter handle. There have been several instances: when Mayor of London Mayor Johnson resigned from office, when a blogger decided to leave the company and even at BBC. Except in the first two cases, it was a personal account so it made sense when the people owning them continued using them.

In the case of London Mayor and with PMOIndia, the accounts were of an official stature and the right thing to do would have been to hand it over to the incoming team. It’s still not late.