The coverage of the ongoing farmers’ agitation was yet another pain point for the government concerning Twitter. Now the microblogging platform has once again incurred the wrath of the government on multiple fronts. IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad called out the platform on Wednesday for its failure to comply with intermediary guidelines, regarding the appointment of compliance officers. As a result, the platform has lost the immunity that it enjoyed in the country and will now be held liable for action under the IPC for any unlawful content that has been posted by a user.
Many netizens expressed the opinion that constantly yanking the chain of a social media platform is tantamount to infringing on the user’s freedom of speech and expression. But other aspects are worth looking into. For starters, Twitter is an MNC that has successfully milked the notion of social media engagement to the fullest. As a commercial enterprise, it serves the communication requirements of both generic users, as well as business establishments, and state and national governments globally including our own. Ironically, even when the IT Minister had chosen to rebuke Twitter for its non-compliance, he had to tweet about it.
So will curbing Twitter be akin to cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face? Not really, if one were to examine the numbers. One of the most popular messaging platforms in India is WhatsApp, with over 53 crore local users. Trailing right behind the messaging giant is the video-sharing platform YouTube, which boasts over 45 crore monthly active users. Social media app Facebook also has about 41 crore Indian subscribers. So, when you offset these numbers against Twitter’s user base in India at 1.75 crore users, it might seem like a case of misdirected efforts.
The quantum of unverified information that passes for breaking news and is shared on WhatsApp or posted on YouTube must be seen to be believed. Last month, the IT Ministry had enforced the new Digital Rules, which required platforms like WhatsApp to provide the government with information on the source of specific messages, when instructed. The platform went on to sue the government stating that providing access to encrypted messages would amount to breaking privacy protections. Here in Tamil Nadu, despite boasting of the fourth highest internet penetration rate in India, with nine out of 10 people in urban areas being constantly online, social media apps pale in comparison to messaging apps, usage-wise.
A platform like Twitter, which despite claims of being a mass-market product, is still predominantly a domain of upwardly mobile urban users. Disseminators of news or views have better luck reaching out to people in rural pockets on messaging platforms as compared to, say a social media platform. To top it off, the developments that flash on any given Twitter user’s timeline are determined to a great extent by how the said user has predefined his or her likes or preferences, which are in turn processed by an algorithm. In the words of the founding fathers of the word processor, what you see is what you get.
If preventing communal unrest was the baseline, the government need not have to look too far. Prominent MPs serving in the current regime have made it their stock-in-trade to stoke divisive sentiments with their incendiary rhetoric. Not to mention some TV channels that blatantly pitch communities against each other that are still riding high on a wave of manufactured nationalism. The approach of shooting down the messenger, although more convenient, might not bear the intended outcome.