The general public who actively use social media are susceptible to being manipulated during the time of elections. Public figures such as politicians are at risk of getting their posts (their thoughts on certain matters) shadow banned. Their posts might be related to something which speaks against a party in elections. When they get shadow banned, these posts are blocked to their followers without their knowledge. This indirectly favors the opposing party, manipulating the general public to vote for the other party. Social media platforms can control what content is being shown to the users. It doesn’t necessarily mean social networking sites do this. But it’s something that can be done.
With the ongoing elections in India, there was a recent case where the twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and other top officials of twitter India were called to appear before the India’s parliament hearing. The supporters of the right-wing accused twitter of being biased against them. Their reasons for their accusations include the accounts of political leaders getting suspended and shadow banned. Here’s an example: Tajinder Pal Bagga, a right-wing spokesperson claimed that a supporter of his party who tweeted about a sportswoman, congratulating her on her victory, who won a goal medal for the country, got his account blocked due to copyright violations.
There were about 28 retweets and it was positive tweet which was good for party’s reputation. The same post was tweeted by the opposing party’s leader Rahul Gandhi. It had about 25000 retweets, but his account was never blocked. There are more examples like this which clearly favors a party but downgrades the other party.
The twitter CEO and other higher officials of twitter India declined to appear before the parliamentary committee on IT over this issue of safeguarding citizens’ rights on social media platforms. Their reason for not appearing is because of “short notice of the hearing”, so the hearing was postponed to Feb 11. This is a case of a negative right, a right to decline the hearing and postponing it, and it being unfavorable to the accusers.
Twitter claims that they don’t take actions based on political views. And they have some solid reasons backing it up. They don’t act impartially and treat every account the same. Accounts/tweets that are reported or violate the rules and regulations of twitter are impartially blocked. But on the contrary, this was stated by Colin Crowell, VP at twitter, “The public conversation around Twitter’s policies and actions may be distorted by some who have a political agenda and this may be particularly acute during election cycles when highly-charged political rhetoric becomes more common”. I think this is a case of a logical fallacy, as his argument against the accusers is based on their emotions.
I think the claims of the accusers seem more convincing. They can’t be accusing just for the sake of it, they have nothing against twitter, and they don’t benefit in any way. But they both do have strong arguments. And I think there’s no way twitter can be proved wrong because they can always say that it was a mistake, or it was just their algorithm. Worst case, if twitter official’s arguments aren’t very convincing to the committee, twitter might get banned in India.
- Colin Crowell. “Setting the record straight on Twitter India and impartiality”. Blog.twitter.com. 8 Feb 2019. Web. 10 Feb 2019.
- “Twitter CEO, top officials decline to appear before parliamentary panel: Sources”. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com. 9 Feb 2019. Web. 10 Feb 2019.
- “WATCH: ‘Twitter Suspended Our Five Accounts, But Had To Restore Under Pressure’ Claims Tajinder Pal Bagga Lashing Out Over ‘political Bias’”. Republicworld.com. 9 Feb 2019. Web. 10 Feb 2019.