On the afternoon of 26 January, as clashes broke out between protesting farmers and Delhi Police at different points in the capital, a steady stream of tweets surfaced on Twitter calling for violence, particularly against Sikh farmers.
Within hours on Republic Day, what started as a stream of tweets evolved into a flood of hateful messages against the Sikh community at large with tweets using words like “genocide”, “1984” and hashtags like #MissingIndira #shoot trending.
The insinuation was clear – an encore of the horrific anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984 where over 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed in over 40 cities.
Many on social media called this out, asking if Twitter could suspend former United States President Donald Trump’s account for “incitement to violence” following the armed insurrection on Capitol Hill on 6 January, then why not suspend similar accounts in India found to be calling for violence and deaths?
Twitter’s rules on user safety and pertaining to “violence” states: “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people. We also prohibit the glorification of violence.”
The Quint reached out to Twitter on the issue and the social media company said it has “taken strong enforcement action” and “suspended more than 500 accounts engaged in spam and platform manipulation.”
In a statement to The Quint, the platform also stated that it is monitoring the situation closely and remains vigilant.
Calls of #1984 & #Shoot Flood Twitter
Farmers protesting against the three contentious farm laws at the borders of New Delhi at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur had scheduled a tractor rally in the capital on 26 January. However, as many tractors broke away from the designated parade route amid tear gas shells and lathicharge by the police, violent clashes erupted in several parts of New Delhi.
By Tuesday evening, as hundreds stormed Red Fort in the heart of New Delhi and the ‘Nishan Sahib’ flag was hoisted on an empty flagpole, calls for “need to repeat 1984” and “second Operation Blue Star” and “Missing Indira Gandhi” began flooding Twitter.
A user called Abhishek Singh (@Imabhi48) posted: “#DelhiUnderAttack Indra once did in 1984, will Modi ji repeat it in 2021?”
A far-right handle called ‘Kreatively’ even ran a poll – “Are you Anti Congress but missing Indira Gandhi today?” Over 6,300 votes were cast with 82 percent replying “Yes.”
Hashtags like #Shoot, #IndiraGandhi even started trending on the microblogging platform, a testimony to the volume at which calls for police brutality and killings of members of a community were stoked by users, many of whom openly flaunted their support for the ruling BJP.
Have Taken Strong Action: Twitter
On Thursday, 28 January, a Twitter spokesperson told The Quint that the platform had taken “strong enforcement action”against such content.
“We have taken strong enforcement action to protect the conversation on the service from attempts to incite violence, abuse and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm and by blocking certain terms that violate our rules for trends,” a Twitter spokesperson told The Quint.
“Using a combination of technology and human review, Twitter worked at scale and took action judiciously and impartially on hundreds of accounts and Tweets that have been in violation of the Twitter Rules, and suspended more than 500 accounts engaged in spam and platform manipulation regardless of their political beliefs, background and affiliations.”A Twitter spokesperson
“We are monitoring the situation closely and remain vigilant, and strongly encourage those on the service to report anything they believe is in violation of the rules,” the spokesperson added.
Twitter Must Do More: Digital Rights Advocates
However, digital rights activists have spoken out against a duality in action by large technology platforms when it comes to the US, EU and India.
Software Freedom Law Centre India (SFLC.In), an organisation advocating for online civil liberties, told The Quint that platforms including Twitter and Facebook need to act swiftly in the case of messages
“There have been repeated instances of platforms failing to act on hate messages in India,” said Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director, SFLC.In
“Such messages do have an impact in the real world and could cause harm for people. The platforms cannot have a different policy on content moderation in the global south while acting swiftly on such content in the developed world,” said Sugathan.