Indians treasure their free speech. They don’t need Twitter for that
It is now a 1.3-billion people’s consensus to live as a democratic nation versus Big Tech’s ambition to supplant it with its invisible global domination forged by a couple of pages of online contract.
Technology Frankenstein’s like Google, Facebook and Twitter have done away with niceties. They have no patience with a nation’s laws, forget culture or ethos. They want their private, intercontinental digital fiefdoms.
They get to choose whose voice must be amplified, whose voice muted, which handle to de-platform, whom to shadow-ban. They have now arrogated themselves to the task of trying to topple elected governments. The defeat of Donald Trump in the world’s most powerful nation has given Big Tech a massive morale cocaine-shot. They can now do it anywhere in the world, they feel.
Twitter, specifically, has been the most brazen lately. After blacking out all reports of a corruption scandal involving Joe Biden’s son, and then de-platforming Trump who was then the sitting President of the United States, Twitter must be feeling like a stakeholder in the planet’s biggest regime change.
India, for it, must be what the corporate world calls the ‘low hanging fruit’. A massive and maniacally diverse democracy, which has meticulously worked for a good part of its post-Independence years to be internationally treated as a ‘soft state’, should be easy prey. That India is today run by what the West calls a ‘Hindu nationalist party’ with a strong-willed leader at the helm perhaps gives Twitter moral solace (in the unlikely event that it needed one) to go after the elected government and those who support the Indic, post-colonial ideology.
Twitter’s recent statement travels from lying to victim-playing to grandstanding. It was in response to the Delhi Police visits to its office in the ‘manipulated media’ case and the Narendra Modi government’s insistence that it abides by the new intermediary rules under the IT Act. These rules were framed to ensure greater accountability of foreign media and information platforms operating in India under the nation’s laws.
Twitter instead started the statement by lying. “We are deeply committed to the people of India,” it said.
If it were so committed, why was it hell-bent on disregarding the rules that the government chosen by those very people had framed?
Why did it allow handles to spread lies and cheer hoodlums who ran amok in Delhi on Republic Day in the name of farmers’ protest? It was more than proactive about blacking pro-Trump voices during the storming of the Capitol Hill.
It then said: “…we will continue to be strictly guided by the principles of transparency.”
Now, that is laughable. Twitter has repeatedly suspended nationalistic accounts. It has been widely accused of shadow-banning or systematically eroding the follower-count of mainly politically conservative users. It never opens its algorithms to public scrutiny or responds satisfactorily when private users complain. So much for transparency.
Twitter then proceeded to lecture the world’s largest democracy on free speech.
“Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to the freedom of expression for the people we serve.”
That is grandiose. The people of India do not derive their freedom of expression from Big Tech. They derive it from the Constitution and thousands of years of cultural openness, for which it has paid with blood and land to waves of invaders and colonialists. Indians treasure their free speech. They don’t need Twitter for that.
Then comes the most telling sentence in Twitter’s statement. “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to intimidation tactics…”
In this lies the subtle glimpse of the war Big Tech is waging against the Indian democracy. On its side is a section of so-called Indian “civil society” who want to see Modi go but are in a minority. It also covertly threatens to rally global forces behind its agenda.
It is bigger than Big Tech vs Indian government. Much larger global networks are out to destroy the very idea of a strong, united, rising India.
The war is being fought by pumping in money for Islamist and Maoist militancy. It is being fought by deploying editors and Oped writers in prestigious western publications which constantly malign India, going to the extent of calling the new strain of Covid virus the “India variant”.
It is a much bigger project that both the government and the people will need to summon the last drop of their will to fight and win.