Don't be surprised! Twitter can afford to defy the Indian government
With Twitter officials declining to appear before the India's parliamentary panel on information technology to counter allegations of political bias, the committee headed by Anurag Thakur had said that it would consider initiating breach of privilege action against the leadership of Twitter, but does Twitter care about it? It isn't the first time that a US based technology company has been asked to appear before a government panel and it also isn't the first time a tech company has defied such orders.
Earlier in 2018, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai had refused to attend a US Senate hearing. Back then, Google had sent a letter to the US Senate Intelligent Committee on why the company will not appear for the hearing on issues like foreign interference during elections on its platform. The precedent set by Google in the US is now being followed by Twitter in India, and it isn't surprising at all. Twitter has said that its feed is user generated and it won't in any way try and dictate what the users must tweet or control the velocity of their tweets.
According to Twitter, the platform gives its users the ability to see every point of view and all perspectives, making it a unique platform and unlike any other service in the world. Twitter has said that it would always try and protect this uniqueness.
Indian politicians need Twitter?
India is one of the biggest markets for Twitter with nearly 77 lakh active users as of January 2019. With new users coming mostly from India, the Indian government is expecting Twitter to fall in line. Twitter has sighted 'short notice' as an excuse for the unavailability of its top officials, including CEO Jack Dorsey. The justification hasn't gone down well with the Indian authorities. But, can Indian authorities force Twitter to toe their line, especially with the upcoming election season? The answer is - even if it can, it won't! Lets analyse why the Twitter is an important political tool for the government that it can't let go off so easily.
PM Modi's popularity: With 4.54 crore followers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the third most followed leader on Twitter after US President Donald Trump and Pope Francis. Today, when running a political campaign, it is necessary to have a social media presence in order to make your name and positions on certain key issues known to voters. Twitter is the easiest way PM Modi can reach out to the people, especially the youth who spend most of their time on social platforms like Twitter. It is a tool that can help politicians to rally support and even influence voters. Also, according to the Pew Research Center, "one-in-five social media users have changed their minds about a political issue or about a candidate for office, because of something they saw on social media." Therefore, if Twitter CEO doesn't want to show up for a meeting, not much would be done in response as Indian politicians need Twitter now more than ever before.
Digital diplomacy: Being one of the most popular figures on the Social Media, PM Narendra Modi is one of the largest net exporters of influence and opinion via Twitter. Social media has allowed faster and cheaper form of communication making global interactions simpler. Twitter has broken down existing power structures and has made it easier for countries to shape perceptions through people-to-people and leader-to-leader contact. Twitter also offers great resource of big data that can work wonders for any global leader. It is not just about wishing politicians on their 'birthdays' or clicking selfies with them, Twitter has successfully changed the dynamics of soft power around the world and India cannot afford to let go off it so easily.
Election influence: UPA, especially Congress, lost the 2014 elections on social media first and then on the ground. Rahul Gandhi was a late bloomer on Twitter and was no match for the social media savvy Narendra Modi who used the platform to turn the tide against the Congress. Even today, the ruling BJP has lot more supporters and influencers online when compared to any other Indian political party in India. In today's digital age, Twitter is a great tool politicians have that will allow them to sway and influence elections.
Building narrative: Twitter doesn't need to try too hard to defy Indian government's orders. Unless and until the bias and the narratives are in the favour of the ruling party, not much will come out of this debate on impartiality based on political views.
Edited by Udit Verma