Ranjona Banerji: Free Speech? Twitter? Bunkum!

08 Nov,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


I was part, in a small way, of the exodus out of Twitter. Ever since I got on it, in June 2009, I have loved Twitter. It was invigorating, easy to use, it put you in touch with a wide variety of people, a global family of shared tastes, ideas, trends and memories. If you used it publicly as I did and shared my columns on I, yes there was abuse. But as an anti-establishment journalist you get used to that, via letters, postcards, emails and now on social media. And there were ways of dealing with the most virulent form of it.

But as invariably happens with a good thing, Twitter changed. Most of the abuse comes from rightwing trolls and in India that means supporters and members of the large Hindutva family. The Sangh Parivar’s various arms were quick to get on to social media and make it their domain. But even that could be dealt with. They could be countered and reported.

But once Twitter realised the potential in Indian Twitter, they set up Twitter India. And this was, for me, the beginning of the end. That is when corporate and government interests started to get priority. That was when people who opposed the government found they were being “shadow banned”, “temporarily restricted” and outright suspended. The “offending” tweets were usually those that attacked or questioned the Narendra Modi government, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.

Had Twitter been as eager when it came to doing the same to tweets or Twitter users which used threats of rape and assault, who attacked India’s opposition parties and their leaders, you could console yourself that the playing field was even. But of course not. It took concerted and sustained efforts to get filthy and vicious off the site. Most of them are still there.

This revolt against Twitter centred on the site’s suspension of Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde’s account. They first suspended him for using a famous photograph of August Landmesser in his header. Landmesser was a worker in Nazi Germany who bravely refused to do the Nazi salute. He became a symbol of revolt AGAINST fascism. So do let Twitter’s stupidity and perfidy sink in. Hegde’s account was restored but only temporarily. He was then suspended, and remains suspended, for “quote-tweeting” a well-known poem by Gorakh Pandey called “Usko Phansi do” or “Hang him”.

Twitter has since refused to reinstate him until he takes the tweet down. Exactly what is offensive about this poem, shared by other people many times, has not been explained. Hegde refused to take it down and has sent Twitter a legal notice. It is however clear that it is because of Hegde’s active opposition to the past and current Modi governments and his appearances on television that he has been silenced. Or attempted to be silenced.


For many on Twitter, this was too much. There are other similar social media sites available. They may be small but they exist. Twitter is not the only fish in the sea. Like Facebook, it has now shown itself to be one more easily malleable device for rightwing forces across the world. It gives in, for all that it claims it supports free speech, transparency, blah blah.

On Thursday, Twitter India came up with the most bunkum pap explanation possible, in a series of tweets. There was so much waffling that your head hurt. These are two of them:

“There’s been a lot of discussion this week about Twitter’s perceived bias in India. To be clear, whether it’s the development of policies, product features, or enforcement of our Rules, we are impartial and do not take action based upon any ideology or political viewpoint.

“Twitter’s commitment to inclusion and diversity is fundamental to who we are and crucial to the effectiveness of our service. Voices from across the spectrum can be seen and heard on Twitter and we are committed to the principles of openness, transparency and impartiality.”

Only recently, after Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg got into bad publicity for vicious political advertising connected with the US presidential election, Jack Dorsey of Twitter made a grand announcement that Twitter would not accept any political advertising. In India, it appears, the strategy is something else.

As it stands, people are shifting to sites like mastodon. It may not finish Twitter but it should serve as a warning, in case anyone’s listening.



The extent of the fascist nature of this Modi-Shah-BJP government was brought home again on Thursday, November 7. Print India carried a story that writer and columnist Aatish Taseer’s Overseas Citizen of India status was to be revoked because of an article he wrote criticising Modi in Time Magazine. The Ministry of Home Affairs tweeted that this was false. Taseer’s status was being revoked because he did not fill out some paperwork. The tweets made it clear that Taseer had a Muslim middle name.

Govt considers revoking author Aatish Taseer’s OCI card after his Time article slammed Modi


Taseer has responded, in Time magazine:


If nothing else, even to the most thick-headed fans, these should be indications that we are headed to an authoritarian state.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal


Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.