Tagging of BJP’s IT Cell chief Amit Malviya’s tweet as ‘manipulative media’ may just be a starting point

Twitter polices Twitter-scape relentlessly for such tweets, and henceforth either BJP/BJP IT Cell/Amit Malviya fall in line or they get flagged at every port of call they make on Twitter

Tagging of BJP’s IT Cell chief Amit Malviya’s tweet as ‘manipulative media’ may just be a starting point

Sushil Kutty/IPA

BJP IT Cell head Amit Malviya is in the middle of a Twitter storm and he cannot honourably tweet about it having been dishonourably tagged and red-flagged with the dubious honorific “manipulated media”, a reference that not even President of the United States Donald J Trump has had the honour of getting tagged with on the microblogging site that once red-flagged “brahminical patriarchy” and received all-round flak for it.

Actually, that was Twitter head Jack Dorsey who was at the receiving end. The man was on a tour of India and he had gotten himself pictured with a bevy of “progressive Indian women” with a couple of them holding placards with the legend “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy” printed on them. It wasn’t subtle, the message. It was in your face and the women with Dorsey weren’t apologetic about it, then; and wouldn’t be apologetic, now. Quite the contrary, they would be at the vanguard, congratulating Jack Dorsey and Twitter for “red flagging” Amit Malviya with the “manipulative media” tag.

So, what happened? Apparently, Malviya, who heads an army of “bhakt IT warriors”, all clubbed under the awning of “BJP IT Cell”, tweeted an allegedly edited (doctored?) photograph from the ongoing farmers’ protests. And Twitter red-flagged it and tagged it “manipulated media,” the first time Twitter has taken such action against a powerful Indian politician. With that, Malviya joins an exclusive club of which United States President Donald Trump is the most leading face. Trump regularly gets red-flagged by Twitter; in fact every one of his tweets containing the words “election fraud” gets flagged by Twitter and Trump is now threatening to do away with “Section 230”, which gives “Big Tech” like Facebook, Google and Twitter a semblance of protection from getting hauled up for perceived misdemeanours.

According to people in the know, the “Twitter action” against Amit Malviya follows a series of crucial policy changes made by Twitter in recent times to contest and fight “fake/misleading news/information.” And there are United States senators who categorize such powers that Twitter has armed itself with as bordering on censorship, a power which the senators say ought to be taken away from “Big Tech and Social Media” ASAP. If Donald Trump somehow, by hook or no hook, manages a second term, be sure Section 230 will get the boot and it might even happen if the Republicans win the “Georgia runoffs” and get a clear majority in the US Senate.

That said, Twitter has no friends in the BJP despite the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has millions of followers on Twitter, only less than the numbers Donald Trump has. Both Trump and Modi have been adroitly using Twitter to not only to address and influence their constituencies but also to attack and disparage foes. But while Trump is pretty in your face on and with Twitter, Modi has always been rather muted, preferring to allow his party men like Amit Malviya and party women like Meenakshi Lekhi to do the “talking.” Very recently, on the question of a misrepresented map of India by Twitter, Lekhi had gone ballistic and Twitter was forced to give an explanation to a parliamentary committee headed by Lekhi.

In fact, the “action” against Malviya comes on the heels of Twitter getting reprimanded by Lekhi and Twitter’s action against Malviya might be taken as “retaliation” by the thinned skin in the BJP of whom there have been plenty in the saffron party in recent weeks and months; politicians who are quick to take offence. Without doubt, Twitter has in a matter of just 24 hours doubled the number of its enemies in India with this action against Malviya. And there are some very “powerful” people in the list.

Only the other week, Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami spent a “primetime hour” railing against Twitter, during which he invited “talented Indians” to join him to create a “Twitter-like” social media platform to drive Twitter out of India.

But then, Twitter is also testing the waters, most likely. Its campaign against “doctored media” got going seriously only a year ago, in November 2019. But once it launched the campaign, Twitter unlike Facebook went in all-out attack mode, all guns blazing, so to speak. POTUS Trump faced the brunt. Trump’s list of “manipulated media” tweets will fill several pages of his notebook if he keeps one. Twitter especially flags all tweets Islamophobic and has zero tolerance for “racist/bigoted” tweets. Twitter polices Twitter-scape relentlessly and mercilessly for “manipulated media” tweets, and henceforth either BJP/BJP IT Cell/Amit Malviya fall in line or they get flagged at every port of call they make on Twitter.

Let it be known, however, that the BJP relies heavily on social media. In fact, politicians and political parties worldwide are in the same bucket list. From Trump to Modi to Putin to Boris Johnson and whoever else. That’s part of the reason why Jack Dorsey and Twitter can continue to live a chequered life despite making enemies of the world’s ‘Who’s Who.’ President Donald Trump without Twitter will lose not just sleep but the use of both his thumbs! Prime Minister Narendra Modi might not, but probably that’ll be because he might have people to do the tweets for him, most likely. For, it takes a special type of politician to tweet himself for himself!

Anyway, to get back to Amit Malviya and his dubious achievement, the video Amit Malviya tweeted was allegedly “edited to distort truth.” It shows a policeman (Lal Bahadur’s ‘Jawan’) swinging a baton at a senior Sikh farmer (Shastri’s ‘Kisan’). The photograph which went viral was picked up by Wayanad MP and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as a peg to criticize the Modi government on Twitter for the BJP’s ‘ongoing shenanigans’ against farmers protesting the new agricultural laws.

Malviya in turn picked Rahul Gandhi’s tweet and retweeted it to claim that the “baton” swung by the “jawan” hadn’t struck the elderly “kisan.” He should have left it there but he went a step further, saying that Gandhi’s tweet was “propaganda” against the Modi government.

That set the fact-checkers among the pigeons. The picture was “checked” and was found to be genuine with one fact-checker going to town with an interview of the “elderly kisan” to disprove Malviya wrong, and that’s what got Amit Malviya, all-powerful chief of BJP’s IT Cell, labelled “manipulative media”. Twitter branded Malviya’s tweet “objectionable”, of having breached its “synthetic and manipulative media” policy which says, “We also consider whether the context in which media are shared could result in confusion or misunderstanding or suggests a deliberate intent to deceive people about the nature or origin of the content, for example by falsely claiming that it depicts reality.”

The upshot is that Amit Malviya has been told, rather rudely, that he now lives in an alternative reality, where facts are blurred and news is faked. Surely, his legion of fans and followers on Twitter will react with explosive indignation and Arnab Goswami, who is famously not on Twitter or any social media platform, will rail and rant. But one thing is for sure: the “flag” that Twitter has unfurled on Amit Malviya will fly high for all times to come and flower-petals will not shower on Malviya, that’s for sure.

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