New Delhi: Many have been at the receiving end of Twitter, be it losing followers or facing shadowban. But when the victim is no less than a former railway minister, the matter assumes greater significance. Suresh Prabhu who was the minister for Railways and Commerce in the last Modi cabinet has taken to Twitter and has alleged that his followers are being deliberately "removed". Prabhu has also alleged, "a disturbing trend" of posts being deleted "selectively" on his Twitter timeline. The former cabinet minister tagged Twitter India to complain.

Allegations against Twitter

Twitter India has faced a long list of allegations in India when it allegedly tried to shadowban people. Shadow banning is the act of blocking or partially blocking a user or their content from an online community such that it will not be readily apparent to the user that they have been banned. The microblogging site has also been accused of search banning certain users.  This type of ban causes an account to not populate search suggestions and people search results when it is searched for while being logged out. 

Earlier, a Twitter user by the name Devi Prasad Rao had alleged that he had been shadow banned as a series of tweets he posted were against the Gandhi family. This incident was reported by MyNation. On May 3, Karnataka’s Rao tweeted a long post, detailing how the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, his family, and close friends took a holiday in Bangaram island, Lakshadweep in the year 1988. He had also tweeted about how an aircraft carrier, INS Virat was diverted to serve the family during their holidays. The long thread received good response, with over 2 lakh impressions on Twitter alone. 

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Four days later, on May 7, Rao, who hails from Mangaluru, added 26 more tweets to cover the other aspects relating to the same issue of misuse of power by the Gandhi family. But within an hour, it is alleged that Rao was shadow banned. Speaking to MyNation, he said, “I checked on and I found I was Search Shadow banned. My tweets would be visible only to those who visit my timeline. I would not show up on others’ timelines.”

Twitter and its dubious history!

There are many Twitter handles like one that goes by the name of True Indology which was banned and continues to remain so, for reasons which still remain undisclosed. TrueIndology has come to be known as one of the myth busters of history through its Twitter account with a cult following. Taking to Facebook, the person who operates the account had said, “The mask is completely off. Twitter did not even bother to send a suspension mail. Did not even specify the basis on which the account @IamTrueIndology was suspended".

Other instances like Ankur Singh's account that was suspended without a reason ensured a backlash with #BringBackAnkurSingh becoming a trending topic. After a few days, his account was reactivated but no reason was cited as to why it was suspended in the first place.  Piyush Kulshreshtha, who is on Twitter by name @ThinkersPad too alleged shadowban. But unlike others, he served a legal notice to Twitter and demanded an apology from the social media giant for alleged shadow banning his tweets and a compensation of Rs 5 crore.

Most of the admins of these accounts have alleged that they have been systematically targetted for following a particular ideology.

Government acted belatedly

In what can be seen as a first, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey has written to the Parliamentary committee of information and technology (IT) thanking the committee. The letter comes after the committee summoned him for representing its case in face of a volley of allegations that called the online platform "biased". The government's parliamentary committee on IT woke up belatedly, ahead of the election and started probing the possibility of Twitter influencing India's Lok Sabha election.

The move by the Anurag Thakur led committee came after 'Youth for Social Media Democracy' (YSMD) — an outfit which espouses a right-of-centre ideology on Twitter — protested outside Twitter's office in Delhi's Lado Sarai. The protestors alleged that the social networking service behaves in a politically biased way towards the left and centre ideology, something Twitter vehemently denies. The group also gave a representation to Thakur who is back in Modi Sarkar 2.0 as the MoS Finance. A police complaint was also filed against it by defence expert Abhijit Iyer-Mitra in New Delhi district alleging Twitter was influencing the Indian election.

But this time around the matter assumes larger significance as a former minister himself has been the alleged victim. The accusations have been pointed out directly by Suresh Prabhu. Such allegations have been hurled at Twitter in the past, but the man doing it this time makes all the difference.