For a week now, several hashtags such as #TwitterHatesSCSTOBCMuslims, #CasteistTwitter and #JaiBhimTwitter have been among the top trends in India on Twitter. Here’s why.

Explained Why CasteistTwitter was trending and the companys responseTwitter/Prof Dilip Mandal
news Controversy Friday, November 08, 2019 - 09:13

For a week now, the popular microblogging website Twitter has been mired in controversy. The social media platform has been accused of being casteist, as several accounts of prominent intellectuals from marginalized Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi (DBA) communities were suspended allegedly without any valid justification. The allegedly suspicious removal of these accounts led to many accusing Twitter of not being as democratic as it claims to be.

In the past one week, several hashtags such as #TwitterHatesSCSTOBCMuslims, #CasteistTwitter and #JaiBhimTwitter have been among the top trends in India on Twitter. 

How it began

On November 1, the hashtag #restoreDilipMandal was trending on Twitter, after the account of Professor Dilip Mandal, former Managing Editor of India Today, and consultant editor of the news website, ThePrint, was suspended without any explanation. Apart from Dilip Mandal, the accounts of anti-caste intellectual Dr Ratan Lal from Hindu College, Delhi University; Tejaswini Tabhane (who identifies as an Ambedkarite); Adivasi rights activist Hansraj Meena; and a few anonymous anti-caste accounts, such as ‘Let’s go casteless" (@Dr_SM_) and ‘Destroy EVM’ (@nileshg6838) were also suspended.

Subsequently, many people from the DBA community on Twitter spoke out about being targeted on the platform — that they were informed of their Twitter accounts ‘being reviewed’ or that their accounts were restricted allegedly on baseless grounds.

Following the uproar from several users, Twitter restored Dilip Mandal’s account a couple of days later and then verified his account, which was his long-standing demand.

However, activists have maintained that Dilip Mandal who has a sizeable number of followers — over 50,000 —  wasn’t verified until recently and Mandal himself has called it a ‘symptom of caste discrimination.’ Though Dilip’s account was restored and verified, he has alleged that Twitter creates a hierarchy by verifying accounts of only people belonging to the upper castes. 

Dilip in his Twitter bio says that he is ‘against blue tick hierarchy’ and has been spearheading the campaign against Twitter, popularising hashtags like #बेशर्मजातिवादीट्विटर (translates to 'shameless casteist Twitter'), #cancelallblueticks and other hashtags to protest against the discrimination. 

Several other users who tweeted with the hashtag #VerifySCSTOBC spoke about how only upper-caste users of the platform were afforded the privilege of a Twitter verification.

Speaking to TNM, Dilip says, “Twitter has created a hierarchy in conversation, where some accounts with blue ticks are given a pedestal where they would preach and others have to listen to them. Twitter is very undemocratic, arbitrary and very hierarchical, which are all symptoms of casteism.”

Dilip argues that if Twitter is truly democratic, they should remove all the verification of Twitter accounts and treat everyone equally.

The angst against Twitter India, was then directed at its Managing Director Manish Maheshwari, who was the former CEO of Network 18. The hashtag #SackManishMaheswari was about users wanting the Twitter India MD to be removed. The users  accused Twitter India MD of being casteist, thus making the social media platform also allegedly discriminatory and ‘anti-Dalit’. The accusations grew louder when the trend #SackManishMaheshwari disappeared from the list of top India trends. 

In 2017, Twitter had briefly begun an application process for verification. However, in July 2018, Kayvon Beykpour, the program manager at Twitter, had stated that the program has been paused and the company was not immediately focusing on their verification program. 

“Updating our verification program isn’t a top priority for us right now. Instead, our team is focused on information quality ahead of the elections — our highest priority,” he said.

‘Not about mere validation’

Tejaswini Tabhane, a student from Delhi University, who identifies herself as an Ambedkarite, says her Twitter account was suspended on October 21 ‘without any valid reason’.  Tejaswini had earlier asked why Twitter hadn’t verified the Twitter account of Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of BR Ambedkar and the chief of the political party Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi. 

Accusing Twitter of being non-transparent, she says, “We don’t know on what basis or criteria one gets an account verified.” 

Stating that it is not about mere validation on the social media platform, Tejaswini points out, “Twitter has become a political forum where every political party and politician express their views and opinion. But the Twitter algorithms are such that tweets of only verified accounts have a massive reach. So we need the important voices to be heard.” 

The accounts of persons from the marginalized which have now been verified are Dilip Mandal and Chandrashekhar Azad (Bhim Army president). However, users allege that scores of other prominent personalities from DBA communities, like directors Pa Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj; politicians Thirumavalan, the Dalit MP from Chidambaram and D Ravikumar, Villupuram MP, are yet to be verified. 

Hansraj Meena, an Adivasi rights activist has also started a Change.org petition, accusing Twitter of being discriminatory. In his petition, he has alleged that Twitter verifies accounts of people from the upper castes even though some are found to spread hatred, while accounts of activists from marginalised communities are suspended.

Strangely, as the activists continued calling out Twitter, Union Home Minister Amit Shah's son Jay Shah the secretary of Board of Control for Cricket in India  who had joined Twitter in October was verified despite not even tweeting even once and having a mere 27 followers as on November 4.  

Twitter has maintained that though they have stopped public verification of accounts, they are verifying on a “case to case process.”

"As we have publicly stated on a number of occasions, our public verification process is currently closed. On a case-by-case basis, we do verify people who are active in the public conversation on Twitter,” a spokesperson told Economic Times.

Twitter also faced backlash for suspending the account of Sanjay Hedge, a noted Supreme Court lawyer, who has now sent a legal notice to Twitter India over his suspension. In the legal notice, he notes that his account (@sanjayuvacha) was suspended twice in the past one week, once for his cover photo — which was the iconic 1936 picture of August Landmesser refusing to do the Nazi salute — and the second time for a 2017 tweet, where he had quote tweeted (retweet with comment) a tweet by Kavitha Krishnan, which had a poem by Gorakh Pandey that was titled ‘Hang him.’

Twitter’s response

Following the outrage, Twitter India on Thursday put out a series of tweets as a statement in response to the allegations. “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. 

The company also stated that according to their rules, it enforces policies “judiciously and impartially for all individuals — regardless of their belief or background.”

“We have a specialised, global team that enforces Twitter’s Rules. In our trainings we extensively cover topics such as religion and caste to provide them with necessary local context they need to evaluate content,” Twitter India added.

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