Rahul Gandhi accuses Twitter of curbing free speech

Published January 28, 2022
India's opposition Congress party leaders Rahul Gandhi (C), Navjot Singh Sidhu (2R) and Punjab's state chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi (2L) walk during their visit at the Golden Temple ahead of state assembly elections in Amritsar on Thursday. — AFP
India's opposition Congress party leaders Rahul Gandhi (C), Navjot Singh Sidhu (2R) and Punjab's state chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi (2L) walk during their visit at the Golden Temple ahead of state assembly elections in Amritsar on Thursday. — AFP

NEW DELHI: The de facto head of India’s Congress party has complained to Twitter about “strange” activity on his account, accusing the US giant of being an “unwitting” ally of the government in curbing free speech.

Rahul Gandhi told Twitter’s chief executive in a letter that growth in his new Twitter followers “suddenly” stopped last August, falling from a monthly average of hundreds of thousands to nearly zero.

“I have been reliably, albeit discreetly, informed by people at Twitter India that they are under immense pressure by the government to silence my voice,” he said in the letter dated Dec 27 and shared by the party on Thursday.

He said he believed Twitter was part of an “unwitting complicity in curbing free and fair speech”, but that the social media firm has an “enormous responsibility to ensure that Twitter does not actively help in the growth of authoritarianism in India”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has long been accused of seeking to suppress dissent, including on social media. It denies such accusations.

Twitter said this week that India ranked fourth-highest globally in the number of requests made by the government to remove content, behind Japan, Russia and Turkey. The site is blocked in China and North Korea.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders described social media suspensions during mass farmer protests in India last year as a “shocking case of blatant censorship”.

The government last year introduced new social media rules requiring firms to remove and identify the “first originator” of posts deemed to undermine India’s sovereignty, state security and public order.

Social media companies and privacy activists have argued that the vagueness of the rules mean they could be forced to identify the authors of posts critical of the government. They are challenging the rules in court.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2022

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