Tejasvi Surya has off-late been suffering the brunt of a targeted campaign against him. Not so long ago, certain individuals from Gulf countries had demanded that the Member of Parliament from Bengaluru South Constituency be removed from his position by Prime Minister Modi. Not much development has happened in that regard and he continues to be the voice of the people he was elected to represent. However, the latest controversy presented itself at his doorstep. A certain tweet he had made was asked to be removed from the social media platform by the Indian Government.
It was reported by various media outlets, including far-left propaganda portals such as The Wire, that the Union Government had requested Twitter to remove the tweet by Tejasvi Surya. The Newsminute, too, had covered the story. The tweet from 2015 said, “In short: true, terror has no religion. But the terrorist definitely has a religion, and in most cases it’s Islam”. The Bengaluru MP’s tweet, in fact, was one of over a hundred tweets the removal of which was sought by the Union Government. Twitter’s filings with lumendatabase, which publishes content removal requests, shows that removal of a tweet made by another prominent Twitter user, Shefali Vaidya, was also sought.
Following the reports, there was much angst among people on social media as to why the tweet was sought to be deleted as according to them, there was nothing very controversial in the tweet and Tejasvi Surya had only spoken the truth. The perception was also generated that the BJP, as a party, does not even stand by its own leaders and would throw even them under the bus when it comes to maintaining the political requirements of basic appeasement of a ‘certain section’. The truth, however, is a little more complicated.
A casual glance through the ‘Transparency’ section of Twitter shows that India is one of the countries that records the highest number of removal requests. What is also revealed is that the government has always asked for posts to be taken down, and this phenomenon is not necessarily unique to the Modi government. The high number of removal requests is indication enough that top Ministers could not be involved in the matter. Our sources within the relevant Ministry, the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, in this case, confirmed that top-level ministers are not involved in the creation of the list. We were told that local police inputs, inputs by Intelligence Bureau and inputs from other committees as created by the Government are relied upon for the creation of the list.
We were told that the deletion of the tweet has nothing to do with the recent controversy, where Indian Muslims allied with their Muslim brethren in the Gulf to attack Hindus living in Islamic countries. Furthermore, our sources told us that Ministers cannot micromanage everything and hence, certain committees are often created and empowered to act on behalf of the government. We were told that such lists once created are often shared with ISPs or platforms such as twitter directly.
Thus, it appears that the list containing the tweets the removal of which was sought was not created by the elected representatives or Ministers of the Union Government but individuals who work as part of an empowered committee that works in tandem with the various agencies and creates these lists. It is also pertinent to note that these lists are not created on the basis of any ideological leaning as such and is based on the judgement of the individuals who create the same. The inability of the Minister to look minutely into the entire functioning of the Ministry concerned is an explanation that has been offered to explain the removal request made by the Union Government.
Such unfortunate occurrences are nothing new. Incidents such as the one that has happened with Tejasvi Surya has also happened in the past. During the General Elections of 2019, Twitter was asked to take down a prominent satirical Twitter handle @padhalikha, which mocks the perfumed elites, by the Election Commission of India. That incident, too, had generated a lot of outrage on social media. That particular order was signed by Sayyid Rabeehashmi, a bureaucrat working for the ECI. According to MyNation, the said bureaucrat was helped by the Zaqkat Foundation to crack the UPSC exam. The victim of such an overreach was then an anon account on Twitter. This time, the same was an elected representative.
The government keeping a watch on social media platforms is nothing surprising or out of turn. Especially in the wake of the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic, it has been seen how social media is used to spread fake regarding the virus. For instance, ‘Namaz’ was propped up as cure b y certain sections of society and certain individuals had made videos of licking currency notes and saying that it was to spread the infection. A few arrests have been made in this regard after it came to light. Such incidents are enough to illustrate why the government may want to keep a watch on the social media platform.
Social media monitoring has been encouraged at every level across governments and local intelligence officers gather input from various sources, which include registered police complaints and feedback gathered by IB officers. Various social media posts across platforms are routinely flagged and such lists reach Delhi too where officers may decide to act further.
Lately, social media posts that can cause communal disharmony has been in focus, with angry Muslim groups taking to streets. It is understood that such a list could be result of such behaviour.