The flagging has not been done at random but is within the scope of a specific policy Twitter has in place to deal with posts containing content which has been “substantially edited” or shared “deceptively”.
It is worrying the government has asked social media platform, Twitter, to remove the ‘manipulated media’ tag from a tweet by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra. Patra has tweeted a ‘document’ labelling it a “CongressToolKit” and claiming it shows that the Congress’s efforts to help the needy were a “PR exercise” and that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wanted “to use this opportunity of pandemic to destroy the image of PM Modi”. The Congress claims the ‘toolkit’ tweeted by Patra is a forgery and has filed a complaint. The government’s view is Twitter cannot be sitting in judgment of such matters until the investigation is complete. The government should realise Patra’s post is public —that can be viewed by each of Twitter’s 1.8 crore users—and that the platform has a responsibility to flag disputed content based on the facts available at the time. The flagging has not been done at random but is within the scope of a specific policy Twitter has in place to deal with posts containing content which has been “substantially edited” or shared “deceptively”.
This is the same policy applied to flag posts from the account of the then US President Donald Trump as “disputed” when he asserted widespread “election fraud”. Bear in mind, the US federal government had not asked for the removal of such tags even when election disputes were being looked into at multiple levels. The Republican party and Trump both resisted the tags, politically, which is a more appropriate response. What is worse is the fact that the person in question is not even a government functionary, and at least one fact-checking website which analysed the ‘document’ tweeted by Patra holds it to have been drafted on a forged letterhead (bit.ly/2Shy4N4).
The need for platforms to take on fake news and abuse of social media, especially by persons wielding significant influence, is something that the government has itself underscored in a February 26 press release on the new Intermediary Rules, while acknowledging that social media platforms “are no longer limited to playing the role of pure intermediary and often they become publishers. The release characterises the Rules as a “fine blend of liberal touch with gentle self-regulatory framework.” The government’s stance in the present matter—over a specific kind of “self-regulation” by a platform—is surely odd and far from the touted ‘liberal touch’? The Rules themselves talk of much more drastic voluntary action, such as removal or blocking of access to disputed content, when it comes to due diligence on the part of a social media intermediary. It is therefore hard to see why mere flagging of a tweet should be proscribed in this manner. The very reality of social media, the government seems to have not understood, is the reach (virality) it confers to a piece of information, whether genuine or fake. The need is to err on the side of caution.