Earlier yesterday, Congress leader Gaurav Pandhi promoted vaccine hesitancy on his Twitter page by sharing an RTI reply to applicant Vikas that said that Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN contains newborn calf serum obtained after slaughtering 20-days-old calves. Pandhi’s tweet as part of the ongoing efforts of the Congress party to spread propaganda against Indian made Covid-19 vaccines, especially COVAXIN developed by Bharat Biotech India.
“In an RTI response, the Modi Govt has admitted that COVAXIN consists Newborn Calf Serum …..which is a portion of clotted blood obtained from less than 20 days young cow-calves, after slaughtering them. THIS IS HEINOUS! This information should have been made public before,” Pandhi tweeted along with sharing a picture of RTI response.
In an RTI response, the Modi Govt has admitted that COVAXIN consists Newborn Calf Serum …..which is a portion of clotted blood obtained from less than 20 days young cow-calves, after slaughtering them.— Gaurav Pandhi (@GauravPandhi) June 15, 2021
THIS IS HEINOUS! This information should have been made public before. pic.twitter.com/sngVr0cE29
Pandhi, who is the Digital Communications & Social Media National Coordinator of Congress, misrepresented the facts to attack the BJP government at the centre, and alleged that the BJP had kept the people of the country in dark about the use of calf serum in the development of Covaxin. Cow being a sacred animal to millions of Hindus in India, Pandhi tried to use this sentiment to accuse the BJP of betraying the faith and belief of people by not informing them about the ingredients that were used in manufacturing Covaxin.
BJP Govt should NOT betray the faith & belief of people, if Covaxin or any other vaccine consists of cow-calf serum, then people have the right to know.— Gaurav Pandhi (@GauravPandhi) June 16, 2021
Vaccines are the life line today and everyone must get vaccinated (as & when available) keeping faiths & beliefs aside. 💉 pic.twitter.com/Khplk3iOb6
Firstly, it is a bit rich coming from a Congress leader to be concerned about cows and feelings of pious Hindus in the country. For years now, Congress leaders and supporters have made gau-mutra jibes with abandon to insult pious Hindus and ridicule their beliefs and faith. Congress leaders have also railed against beef ban in the country, not to forget the incident when a cow was slaughtered by Kerala Congress members just to oppose the Centre’s ban on the sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter.
It is, therefore, tragically ironic that the party which had consistently scorned Hindus, treated their sensitivities with disdain, is suddenly purporting itself to be a party that is championing their cause. Hindus have suffered enough to realise the perils of taking the claims made by Congress leaders on face value.
Congress leader Gaurav Pandhi’s promotes vaccine hesitancy with his misleading tweets
As it turned out, Pandhi was lying through his teeth when he claimed that the Bharat Biotech developed Covaxin contains calf serum. Pandhi’s lies were conclusively demolished in a rebuttal issued by the Government of India. In a press release, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare refuted the claims that Covaxin has newborn calf serum.
The press release said that the serum was used only for the growth of vero cells. It states, “There have been some social media posts regarding composition of the COVAXIN vaccine where it has been suggested that COVAXIN vaccine contains the newborn calf serum. Facts have been twisted and misrepresented in these posts.”
The statement said that it is a common process to use newborn calf serum for the development of a vaccine. It is used in a standard procedure to produce cells to culture viruses and other pathogens to develop vaccines. Additionally, the serum is later washed away and is not a part of the vaccine as alleged by Pandhi in his tweets. In addition to this, Pandhi’s claim that calves are slaughtered for their serum is also wrong as scientists have asserted that killing a calf is not necessary to extract its serum.
Furthermore, neither Bharat Biotech nor the Government of India ever hid the information on the use of serum in the manufacturing process. But Pandhi nevertheless continued peddling propaganda against Covaxin, hoping that it would help him in projecting the BJP as untrustworthy and wean Hindus away from them. However, in doing so, he ended up promoting vaccine hesitancy and spawning apprehensions in the minds of people.
Even though a rebuttal was issued by the Indian government, social media behemoth Twitter, which has fashioned itself as some sort of a crusader fighter misinformation and vaccine hesitancy on its platform, did nothing to pull down Pandhi’s misleading tweets or label his posts as ‘manipulated content’. This laissez-faire policy of letting posts that promote vaccine hesitancy by the Congress party on its platform is in stark contrast to its otherwise stringent practice of not allowing its platform to be used for anti-vaccine posts.
Twitter’s duplicity, suspends Naomi Wolf for anti-vaccine posts while allows Congress leaders in India to do the same
Recently, Twitter displayed unmatched alacrity to suppress misinformation regarding vaccines. The microblogging website suspended American author Naomi Wolf’s account after she was found indulging in spreading misinformation about vaccines.
In a shocking incident, Twitter had even suspended the account of Luigi Warren, the scientist behind the development of mRNA technology used by the Moderna vaccine. His tweet saying that vaccinated people may shed a tiny amount of spike protein was deleted by Twitter, and his account was suspended for a day. In this incident, the Twitter had claimed that it knows more about the vaccine than the scientist who had developed the vaccine technology himself.
In March this year, Twitter had announced that people who repeatedly tweet harmful misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines will be suspended, and after five such offences, the accounts will be permanently banned.
However, such actions were missing in the case of Congress leader Gaurav Pandhi, whose posts were replete with lies and misinformation about Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
In addition to this, Twitter has also been lax against senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who has a history of raising aspersions on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and posting controversial content discouraging the use of masks to prevent the spread of the pandemic. Bhushan was let off the hook with just a 7 days ban when he had posted an article on his Twitter account questioning the benefits of wearing a mask.
The seven-day ban did nothing to change Bhushan’s views on masks and after his account was restored he brazened out his stand, saying that he had shared a well-referenced article on the pros and cons of wearing masks during COVID. Bhushan has also been caught sharing fake news umpteen times. However, each time he is reminded that his post is fake, he issues an apology and deletes the concerned post, only to repeat such behaviour later. But the Twitter continues to humour him, allowing him to use the platform to raise contentious views on vaccines and masks that can have potentially dangerous ramifications.
Twitter’s conspicuous favouritism for the Congress party and its penchant of meddling in India’s politics
Twitter’s lethargic response to fake news and misinformation peddled by Congress leaders and their sympathisers is against the grain of the social media behemoth which chomps at the bit of assuming the role of a content regulator and dishing out labels of ‘manipulated content’ based on facile ‘fact-checks’ done by dubious organisations.
Last month, Twitter was mired in a controversy when it presumptuously handed out the ‘manipulated media’ label to BJP leaders who shared a document and called it a Congress toolkit designed to exploit the pandemic to malign the Modi government and revive its moribund political fortunes. The label was attached to the tweets of the BJP leader shortly after propaganda website Alt News came up with a ludicrous defence to give a clean chit to the Congress party and declare the toolkit to be fake.
The Congress party had asked Twitter to carry out a detailed investigation on the matter and permanently suspend the Twitter accounts of BJP leaders. Within a day, Twitter promptly obliged to Congress party’s request and marked the tweet carrying the photo of the Congress toolkit as ‘manipulated media’. When police contacted Twitter to ask on what basis it labelled the tweets posted by BJP leaders as fake, it refused to share the ‘evidence’.
As such, if Twitter’s past antecedents are to be considered, it has always displayed fervid zeal in marking the tweets put out by BJP leaders as ‘manipulated media’, even when those tweets were meant to debunk patently misleading information shared by the Congress leaders, including their former president Rahul Gandhi.
In December 2020, BJP IT Cell head Amit Malviya shared a video debunking the lies peddled by the Congress leaders. Malviya shared a video in response to an image shared by Rahul Gandhi wherein he insinuated that the police was beating up an old farmer. But instead of marking Rahul Gandhi’s tweet as ‘manipulated media’, Twitter marked Amit Malviya’s tweet as misleading content.
Later in March 2021, Congress IT Cell head Rohan Gupta shared a cropped video from PM Modi’s rally in Assam on Twitter. PM Modi in the video had called out Congress formula of keeping the poor poor and exploiting them for electoral gains. However, the snippet shared by Gupta was carefully cropped to give an impression that PM Modi was advocating the exploitation of the poor for votes.
Gupta conveniently edited out the part in which PM Modi elaborated on how it was the Congress modus operandi of preying on the poor and making false promises to them to win their votes. However, Twitter did not bother to mark Gupta’s tweet as ‘manipulated media’.
After antagonising ruling BJP, Twitter aims to safeguard its business interests
For a long time now, Twitter has been interfering in Indian politics. As the past incidents suggest, Twitter has firmly aligned itself with the Congress party, allowing them a great leeway to peddle fake news and manipulated videos to attack their opponents while suppressing the attempts made to expose their treachery.
But with the toolkit fiasco, Twitter overplayed its hand and failed spectacularly. The response from the Indian government was severe and unrelenting. A new digital law was soon notified, asking social media organisations operating in the country to abide by the law or risk losing legal indemnity. While all social media companies fell in line and complied with the law, Twitter, in its hubris, did not follow the law and cried hoarse that the Indian government was suppressing the freedom of expression.
The Indian government, however, remained undaunted by Twitter’s protestations and asked the social media behemoth to follow the rules or face the consequences. As a result, Twitter lost its intermediary status and is now liable to face prosecution. The BJP government at the centre has made it clear to Twitter that it will be treated at par with other social media organisations, with no special treatment to the social media giant.
Twitter in India is on precarious terrain. It has already antagonised the ruling BJP with its arbitrary take on fighting fake news. It cannot afford to come into the crosshairs of the opposition by removing tweets posted by their leaders and sympathisers or mark them as ‘manipulated media’. The BJP has made it amply clear that if need be, it will not hesitate to penalise Twitter for its mischiefs. In such a scenario, alienating Congress by removing tweets posted by their leaders could draw the ire of the grand old party.
Twitter’s inertia in taking action against manifestly misleading posts from the likes of Gaurav Pandhi, Prashant Bhushan, and others is an attempt at self-preservation. It is acutely aware that it cannot operate in India by antagonising both the ruling party as well as the opposition party. Twitter’s lack of action against Congress leaders is a cynical attempt to safeguard its business interest, even if that means endangering the lives of millions of people by allowing its platform to be used for malicious propaganda and anti-vaccine posts.