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Social media platforms have revolutionised communications in recent years. While public space is accessible to all and provides a medium of person to person communication, social media has amplified the manner of communication in terms of exchanging views and also the comfort one feels behind their gadgets in doing so. For instance, speaking in a room full of audience could leave a few perspiring but social media enables you to participate in the public sphere without physically being there.

From the oldest times, ‘households’ have confined women and restricted their public presence. The minorities have had an unfair treatment on the hands of the more powerful thereby outcasting them. Although the public sphere hasn’t been very considerate of the public presence of women and minorities, yet social media has jeopardized it to a larger extent. Instances of belittling the minorities, rape threats on women and humiliating trolling has found normalcy amongst the hate mongers. While trolling is not restricted to women or minorities, it wouldn’t be completely wrong to argue that they become immediate and easy targets.

There isn’t a dearth of instances that prove that social media sites like Facebook, twitter et cetera have often been the center for spewing hatred

If you’ve been following twitter, you mustn’t be alien to the social media war waged on the site. Every day, an increasing lot of twitteratis are urging to shift to other communicating platforms ditching the former.

The question is why?

The Twitter Tussle

There isn’t a dearth of instances that prove that social media sites like Facebook, twitter et cetera have often been the center for spewing hatred. Besides, Facebook is also infamous for its breach of privacy and had been in the news in early 2018 for the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. It was found that Cambridge Analytica had illegally used the personal data of almost a million Facebook users for political advertising purposes. It faced a backlash by its users who also vowed to take down their profiles and many also campaigned to boycott Facebook. But after almost three years, not much has changed.

Recently, Twitter India has been in the talks for all the wrong reasons. Twitteratis have accused the platform of promoting biased opinions, Islamophobia and bigotry.

On October 20th, one of the trending hashtags on the site called for a complete boycott of Muslims. The hashtag read #मुस्लिमो_का_संपूर्ण_बहिष्कार and continued to trend on number one in Delhi. In a statement given to NewsCentral24*7, a twitter spokesperson carried out a statement claiming they had prevented the hashtag from trending. However, the same article suggests that,“this was patently false since many users pointed out that the hashtag continued to trend even after Twitter’s statement”.

The detailed statement of the Twitter spokesperson as published in the article read, 

At Twitter our singular goal is to improve the health of the public conversation, including ensuring the safety of people who use our service. As outlined in our Hateful Conduct Policy, we do not tolerate the abuse or harassment of people on the basis of religion. As per our Help Center, there are Rules for trends and we have prevented this hashtag from trending as it is in violation of the Twitter Rules. If people on Twitter see something that violates the Twitter Rules, the most important thing they can do is report it, by clicking the drop down arrow at the top of the Tweet and selecting Report Tweet.”

But that’s not it!

His account was suspended because he had used a photo of a man refusing the Nazi salute which is a famous photo of August Landmesser

Most recently, Twitter had been randomly suspending Twitter handles of various users. It began with the suspension of the account of the Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde. His account was suspended because he had used a photo of a man refusing the Nazi salute which is a famous photo of August Landmesser. A few had been later restored but Hegde’s account, it was told, will not be reinstated or unlocked.

Following this, several other handles were also suspended like that of Dilip Mandal who is a professor at Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism and Communication and Hansraj Meena who is an activist and the founder of the twitter page Tribal Army that has over thirteen thousand followers amongst others.

Also read: Watch: How Do Dalit Women Experience The Internet? | #DigitalHifazat

On November 1st, the twitter account of Prof. Dilip Mandal was suspended on the grounds of breach of privacy. Post the suspension of his account, Dilip Mandal called out Manish Maheshwari, the MD of Twitter India in a Facebook post published by him the very day. In the post, Mandal accused him of denying him his right to free speech and said that the ground on which his account was suspended was baseless. Shortly after, the Twitter account of Dr. Ratan Lal, who is also an activist, was suspended on the same grounds. The simultaneous occurrence of suspension of these accounts sparked outrage amongst their supporters and they called for the restoration of their accounts. 

The Backlash

By now, a trend could be observed in this whole practice of taking down of accounts. Most of the people whose accounts were taken down were Dalits. Twitter users alleged that the suspension or curtailment of these accounts was unfair because they were criticising the government or the right-wing. Mandal actively started protesting against it and the hashtag #CasteistTwitter soon took over as one of the trending hashtags. He questioned the algorithm of twitter that ‘verified’ people on the site with blue ticks. He accused Twitter of specifically discriminating against the minorities by denying them such recognition despite fulfilling the criteria.

In another video put out by Dr. Ratan Lal, he questioned why Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah had been verified with a meager following 27 people whereas several other handles with far more followers had not been verified. This sparked a larger debate that identified these blue ticks as a mark of elitism. There was a collective call to ban blue ticks that were hierarchical in nature. 

Accounts of Kashmiri users are very prone to suspension and have seen myriad instances of same

Testimony

Suspension of accounts is not a new trend on Twitter. Accounts of Kashmiri users are very prone to suspension and have seen myriad instances of same. Although the backlash was a first of its kind, many voices for long have been protesting against Twitter’s discrimination against a particular sect. 

Duty Sudipta, a feminist researcher, and writer shared the hassle she had to undergo in the hands of Twitter. Sudipta’s account was suspended but was restored after a day worth of hassle of writing tweets to Twitter India who gave her no reason for their action. She said, “Because they were suspending a large number of profiles, they didn’t give reasons to anyone.” Adding to it, she said, “This is I think the first time that this big a silencing of a particular set of opinions has been done”.

Tejaswini Tabhane who is a Bachelor’s’ student in Miranda House also had her account suspended. Sharing her experience she said, “Just a day before Maharashtra elections, I tweeted about Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi and Maharashtra elections in general. My last tweets before suspension were about the number of central universities that Maharashtra has in comparison to other states. After that, my account got suspended without giving any reason.

Later, when her account was restored the reason provided by twitter was, “Using a trending or popular hashtag with the intent to subvert or manipulate a conversation or to drive traffic or attention to accounts, websites, products, services or initiatives”.

A Paradigm Shift?

The whole Twitter debacle left a good chunk of Twitter users in India looking for an alternative platform. Then came the wave of Mastodon. Various users found had now shifted to Mastodon and were urging others to do the same. 

Image Source: The Hindu

Mastodon is an open-source micro-blogging platform that is similar to Twitter. However while Twitter is a more centralised forum; Mastodon on the other has a decentralised functioning. According to an explanatory article published on Medium, “It is a collection of many instances that communicate with each other to form a wider network. Each instance is independently run by its owner and sets its policies for membership, content, and moderation.

While the public sphere has not been very considerate to the minorities, the outright hatred they receive can simply be appalling

With a spike in its user-base, it has now also updated its social Code of Conduct. It has included ‘casteism or advocation of casteism’ as one of the ‘explicitly prohibited offenses’ as quoted by Eugen Rochko, founder of Mastodon.

While the public sphere has not been very considerate to the minorities, the outright hatred they receive can simply be appalling. The right to dissent is dwindling in the present times but to express dissent when you are a minority could be another ball game altogether. 

While we see also see many voices in support of the downtrodden, could switching between different platforms only address the elephant in the room? 

Also read: Minorities And Cyberspaces: How Neutral Is Our Internet?


Featured Image: South China Morning Post

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