Will Google explain what was ‘Suicidal’ in Priyanka Gandhi’s speech?

Priyanka Gandhi mentioned the death by suicide of a young woman in Telangana and referred to farmer suicides. The warning sign put by YouTube India reduced the video’s reach

Priyanka Gandhi delivering a speech (photo: IANS)
Priyanka Gandhi delivering a speech (photo: IANS)

A.J. Prabal

The 30-second reference to suicides in her 40-minute address in Telangana this week prompted YouTube India to put a warning tagline saying, ‘the content may contain suicide or self-harm topics’. The effect was to reduce the visibility of the video as the warning would have put off many from watching it or sharing it. 

Congress leaders have been quick to accuse YouTube India for unfairly censoring content and for targeting the opposition. In recent months, they pointed out, the YouTube channel and videos of Rahul Gandhi were receiving a lot more views than PM Modi. Although BJP leaders have often exceeded the boundaries of decency and threatened rivals with violence, YouTube India is not known to have put similar warnings on them.

In a blistering attack on the BRS government in Telangana, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had accused it of promoting the ‘land-sand-wine-and mine mafia’, not filling up vacancies in the government, starving the Osmania university of funds and promoting private universities set up by BRS politicians to fleece the students. Pointing out that INC had created the state of Telangana, knowing full well that it could lose the election in the state, she accused the BRS of letting down Telangana and those who laid down their lives for it. She had then proceeded to list the ‘guarantees’ that the Congress had mentioned in its manifesto. 

Did the speech merit the warning tag? INC general secretary Jairam Ramesh, in charge of communication, was the first to react. 

“Only a few days ago, the Washington Post revealed how social media platforms including YouTube were playing into the hands of the ruling dispensation in India. The article had also mentioned that the messages of the Opposition were being suppressed. Today YouTube India has vindicated what the Washington Post wrote and what were already our genuine apprehensions,” he tweeted on X.

“By putting a warning tagline on Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi’s speeches, made in Telangana yesterday, that the content “may contain suicide or self-harm topics”, YouTube has proved beyond any doubt that it is playing into the hands of India’s ruling dispensation which has been desperately trying to block the messaging from the Opposition. Will Google, which owns YouTube, explain what is “suicidal or self-harming” in their speeches? Will now raising issues that matter to the people be censored? We have written to them in the past and we will keep raising our voice in the future for a level-playing field and an unbiased approach from global social media companies—a critical necessity today for free and fair elections in India and all over the world,” read the statement from Jairam Ramesh. 

Priyank Kharge, the Karnataka-minister for IT, asked YouTube India and Google to explain what was suicidal in the speeches. “Are you actively discouraging, dissuading and preventing viewers from engaging with democratic voices? If you are succumbing to pressure from the central government in making these decisions, keep in mind that the state government is equally adept at this kind of manoeuvring. Furthermore, I'm eagerly waiting to listen and learn from you about the categorization of a LIVE RALLY as self-harming or suicidal, even before the speakers have spoken a single word,” he posted.

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