India, Modi, Must Take Note As Twitter, Big Tech Suspend Trump, Begin Censoring The Right
The government should regulate Big Tech, and in no democracy, should the Big Tech be allowed to regulate the government.
Indians know only too well that when a company tries to influence the politics of the land, it ends up governing it for a long time.
Welcome to a free 2021, the Big-Tech style, where the Taliban has an active Twitter account, dictators from around the world have an active Twitter account, people calling for the elimination of Israel and Hindus have an active Twitter account, people from the Left defending anarchy have an active Twitter account, people of a country abusing human rights in their mainland and Hong Kong have an active Twitter account, but the sitting President of the United States does not have one.
Because Twitter decided so, that’s why.
Earlier today, Twitter permanently suspended President Donald Trump's account, accusing him of glorifying violence post the ruckus on the US Capitol.
The platform took it upon itself to review the context around the recent tweets by the President, also took it upon itself to decide how they were being interpreted or were going to be interpreted in the immediate future, and eventually concluded that suspending the account was necessary to curb the risk of any more violence.
As per the company, Trump was suspended for making his followers believe that the infamous election of November was fraudulent, and he was indeed the winner. The company felt it could have further violent repercussions as the inaugural date for the next president nears.
In his most recent tweets, Trump had declared that he was not going to attend the inauguration and that the 75 million followers who had voted for him would not be disrespected or treated unfairly.
Trump’s trauma did not stop there, for even an alternative platform for him to voice his views was blocked by Google and Apple. Parler, which was swiftly grown as a digital place for the conservatives online, was faced with a crisis post the Twitter suspension.
Apple declared that the company was required to better the policing of the conversations on its app or lose its place on the App Store. However, Google went a step further and suspended the app from its Play Store for the same reasons.
Interestingly, in its letter to Parler, Apple stated that the platform was indeed responsible for all the content that was being generated on the platform and the content, in its current form and weak moderation, could be a danger to the safety of its users. Google suspended the app for the same reasons.
Parler had registered more than 10 million downloads, with daily installation count doubling post the breach at US Capitol.
The conclusion is quite straightforward. Big Tech like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter will directly censor what they can, and by virtue of being monopolies in the mobile applications realm, block what they cannot censor.
The move will prove to be problematic for Twitter, too, at least in the short term. While suspending Trump will surely earn the platform some brownie points with the Biden government, especially when there have been calls within the Democrats to break up the Big Tech, Twitter is also staring at stock losses.
If credible platforms with significant user strength crop up post the Trump suspension, Twitter’s long-term prospects would be hampered, not just in Western but also Asian markets.
Even Trump, who has repeatedly hinted on starting a digital media network, if backed by the GOP and the 75-million voters who came out for him in November, could dent Twitter’s prospects. However, the long-term consequences of the same on Twitter remain unpredictable.
Beyond Trump, the GOP, and the US Elections of 2020, Big Tech’s call to suspend and censor Trump is problematic for many reasons.
Firstly, Big Tech has picked a political side. While it can be debated that Twitter would not have chosen to suspend Trump had he won another four years in the White House, for now, Big Tech’s political inclinations are quite clear. This siding with the Left is set to alienate the voices on the Right and even constructive critics of the Left.
Two, the credibility that these platforms had by virtue of being neutral has evaporated like Trump’s social media account. Unless Twitter chooses to reinstate Trump’s account, the Right, not only in the US but across the world, cannot view Big Tech as a mere catalyst anymore. They are no longer merely assisting digital engagement. They are participating in it.
Three, the case of selective outrage. If the same logic used by Apple and Google on Trump and Parler was applied to other platforms, say Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok, the users and platforms would have to be taken down too.
Can Twitter decode that one ‘absolute truth’ for all the 6,000 tweets made per second, around 360,000 tweets per minute, for every 500 million tweets made in a day and for every 200 billion tweets made every year?
Who can forget heroes being made out of ‘Black Lives Matter’ rioters on Twitter and Instagram, or even TikTok, where videos of young boys molesting or throwing acid on a girl went viral in India. Even the Taliban routinely uses Twitter to further its side of the story and agendas in the wake of any battle with the Afghan forces.
Even during the anti-CAA protests, many blue-tick celebrities on Twitter asked Delhi to get on its streets, inciting violence using fake videos of a mosque demolition. Yet, Twitter or Google or Apple never felt the same responsibility as they felt earlier today.
More recently, a video that went viral where a farmer threatened to do to Modi what was done to Indira Gandhi was not suspended, blocked, or in any which way censored by any networking platform.
Four, lack of transparency. Internalising the entire process, without any transparency, without any external stakeholder involvement, Twitter privatised digital democracy, setting what could be a dangerous trend for the future of free internet. Google and Apple also chose to target Parler for its alleged inclination to the Right.
Five, the Big Tech is no longer willing to play the role of a public utility. Even though all the platforms collect user data, sell it to the advertisers, and make tremendous profits, they were still looked upon as public utilities. Neutral, accessible to all, irrespective of one’s political inclination. However, today all that has changed.
Lastly, the mere fact that Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple swung into action together raises concerns about the collective power of the Big Tech. Today, it was Trump and his team. Tomorrow, it could be the GOP or some senators, and this is within the US.
As BJP MP Tejasvi Surya has already pointed out, what if around 2024, they decide to play an active role in India’s national elections, what if Big Tech indeed becomes a threat to democracies?
To sum up, the entire episode can be understood using a Marvel analogy.
Each of the Big-Tech companies now wields power equivalent to that of a single Infinity Stone. Together, they make up the Infinity Gauntlet, the same that was used, dictated, or influenced by the Left to go all Thanos on Trump’s digital universe, wiping out everything.
For India, there are five crucial lessons from the entire episode.
One, the government or any political party, in our out of power, can no longer choose to put its all digital communication eggs in one basket. There is an urgent need to diversify digital communication on social media, and the monopoly of the Big Tech must be ended. The NDA government must lead the way.
Two, it cannot be only about Trump or possibly Prime Minister Modi, for the India democracy must hold Twitter accountable for how the censoring process works.
What happened to Trump today has happened to many accounts inclined to the Right in the past few years. Thus, the government should not only work on a regulation to ensure no common voices are censored online but also hold these foreign companies accountable.
Three, unlike the US, India’s internet user market is still nascent. However, this should not lead the government to believe that it does not face a Big Tech threat.
By 2024, we shall be a nation of billion-plus internet users, and the mere thought that 800-1000 million of those users could be using one or two messaging services, owned by the Big Tech, should get the government to swing into action.
Four, India must learn from China. We have always felt that China is wrong because it copied platforms of the West. No, they are fine there. The only problem is that they do not give their people the option to choose between those platforms; they only have the Chinese version.
It’s time for Modi to lead from the front. Encourage the creation and extensive marketing of local platforms that become the neutral digital playground of all Indians. Marketing, to ensure adoption, will be the key.
Twitter is nothing in India in terms of market strength, today, but after what Big Tech has collectively achieved today, Big Tech needs a counter, and it’s needed now.
How about a messaging service that can be built upon the current BHIM app, to begin with? The government should not play a majority stakeholder in any platform, but merely ensure that the ownership remains majorly local.
The government should regulate Big Tech, and in no democracy, should the Big Tech be allowed to regulate the government, for each time a company tries to influence the politics of the land, it ends up governing it for a long time. We, as Indians, should know that better than everyone else.
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