Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has written to Twitter Chief Executive Office Parag Agrawal telling him that the social media company was limiting his followers under pressure from the Union government, reported NDTV on Thursday.
In a letter dated December 27, Gandhi said that his account, which is very active, had nearly 20 million, or 2 crore, followers and was adding an average of 8,000 to 10,000 followers every day. Giving an example, he said that his account had gained 6.4 lakh new followers in May.
“Then something strange happened,” he wrote. “Since August 2021, the average number of my Twitter followers has fallen nearly to zero. There is an inflection point after which my Twitter account seems to have been paralysed.”
Gandhi said around this time, he had raised several matters, including the rape of a Dalit girl, the farmers’ protest and cases of human rights violations.
“I have been reliably, albeit indiscreetly, informed by people at Twitter India that they are under pressure to silence by the government to silence my voice,” he claimed.
On Thursday, Twitter’s Vice President of Global Public Policy and Philanthropy Sinéad McSweeney said that Gandhi’s number of followers were “meaningful and accurate”, according to PTI.
“Twitter also removes millions of accounts each week for violating our policies on platform manipulation and spam,” McSweeny said. “While some notice a minor difference, in certain cases the number could be higher. We understand this change can be concerning, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation.’
She added that follower counts change as the company uses machine learning to combat spam and manipulation. “We assure you that Twitter, Inc. treats its role as a platform service provider with utmost seriousness and we are deeply committed to India,” McSweeney said.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that Gandhi’s voice on social media cannot be suppressed, PTI reported. “The plurality, the multi-culturalism, the open debate, the critique of policies and programmes of the government and that the social media platforms should be healthy forum for debates and discussions has been the stand of Rahul Gandhi, which now stands vindicated,” Surjewala said.
Gandhi’s account was locked early in August for sharing a photo revealing the identity of the family of a nine-year-old Dalit girl, who was allegedly raped, murdered and then forcibly cremated in Delhi. Twitter had restored the account after a week.
In his letter from December, the Congress leader alleged that other Twitter handles, including government ones, had tweeted the same photo but they were not blocked.
“I am writing to you [Twitter CEO] on behalf of more than a billion Indians to not allow Twitter to become a pawn in the destruction of the idea of India,” Gandhi said.
He told Agarwal that his company has an enormous responsibility to ensure that Twitter does not “actively help in the growth of authoritarianism in India”.
Srivatsa YB, who is in charge of handling the digital communication of Gandhi’s office, rejected the explanation given by Twitter.
“This is neither a fully explanatory nor a satisfactory response,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “The chronology of events does not corroborate Twitter’s claims.”