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After Rahul Gandhi, Indian National Congress’ twitter handle locked along with multiple party leaders

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With the Congress party accusing Twitter of enforcing double standards, this is not the first time that the platform has found itself mired in a political controversy concerning content regulation. 

A week after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter account was locked, the party said that its primary Twitter account along with the accounts of 6 senior party leaders and multiple volunteers has been locked by the social media platform.

MediaNama has confirmed with Twitter that the accounts of the INC, and members Randeep Surjewala and K.C. Venugopal have been suspended. For atleast 4 other leaders, MediaNama has viewed screenshots of Twitter’s notice to them.

Why it matters? The latest development means that India’s most prominent opposition party will now have a splintered presence on social media. Congress’ Twitter handle has 8.4 million followers and former party president Rahul Gandhi’s account has over 19 million followers. Gandhi’s account was locked last week after he tweeted a picture of himself with the parents of an alleged rape victim, which was later taken down by Twitter citing a violation of its rules. The tweet also invited a legal notice from the National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights which said that it violated the victim’s privacy and violated provisions under the Juvenile Justice Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. The controversial IT Rules 2021 also require social media intermediaries like Twitter to voluntarily remove any content violating any Indian law, especially those relating to child abuse.

Twitter’s actions reek of double standards: Congress

Speaking to MediaNama, Secretary of the All India Congress Committee Pranav Jha said that all of these accounts have been locked because they had reposted Gandhi’s photo through their accounts. Jha further said that Twitter’s action reeked of “double standards” and the party will be taking legal action against the platform.

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When asked if there were any updates on Gandhi’s account being restored, Jha said that Gandhi hadn’t deleted the flagged tweet yet. According to Twitter’s rules, the countdown to free a locked account starts after they have performed certain actions such as deleting a tweet violating the rules.

Jha said that “The conduct of Twitter is questionable. It smacks of partisan behaviour clearly under coercion from Modi Government. We all saw that Twitter had no problem when verified handles of National Commission of SC and a BJP MP’s posted the similar pictures while it is acting with vengeance against everyone who belong to Congress Party.” 

Twitter’s response

In response to MediaNama’s query on its actions and the legal basis for the same, a Twitter spokesperson said.

The Twitter Rules are enforced judiciously and impartially for everyone on our service. 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. We strongly encourage everyone on the service to familiarise themselves with the Twitter Rules and report anything they believe is in violation.

Other Congress Twitter handles also locked

The party leaders whose accounts have been locked are:

  • Randeep Surjewala, INC spokesperson with 1.7 Million followers
  • Sushmita Dev, INC spokesperson with nearly 3 lakh followers
  • K.C. Venugopal, Congress Rajya Sabha MP with over 1 lakh followers
  • Jitendra S. Alwar General Secretary, AICC In-Charge of Assam with 38 thousand followers
  • Ajay Maken, General Secretary AICC with over 7 lakh followers
  • Manickam Tagore, AICC in charge for Telangana with nearly 40 thousand followers
  • Pranav Jha’s Twitter account with 29 thousand followers has also been locked.

According to reports, Twitter had previously locked INC TV’s Twitter handle for violating its rules by posting the same photo. But the account has since been restored.

Other cases of political content regulation in India

February 1: Twitter blocks roughly 250 accounts in response to a notice by the government. These included accounts belonging to The Caravan, a news magazine, as well as activists and organisations supporting the months-long farmers’ protests on the outskirts of Delhi. Six hours later, Twitter restores the accounts.

February 11: Twitter blocks Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Chaudhary Sukhram Singh Yadav’s account in India in response to a legal request.

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April 24: Twitter complies with government requests to censor 52 tweets that mostly criticised India’s handling of the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. These included tweets by Revanth Reddy, a sitting Member of Parliament, and Moloy Ghatak, a West Bengal state minister.

May 21: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology writes to Twitter to remove the manipulated media tag it had put on several BJP leaders’ tweets. It also asks for clarification on how its policy (regarding manipulated media) was applicable in this case.

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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