Panel summoning Twitter over political bias is good

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New Delhi | Published: February 8, 2019 1:06:35 AM

A Parl panel summoning Twitter over political bias is a good thing, but panel must first ascertain that the bias exists

twitter, social media, anurag thakur, bjp, parliamentary committee, google, sundar pichai, twitter, privacy violations, privacy violationsSocial media has played a critical role in politics across nations in recent years, more so during elections, including the 2016 US presidential elections.

Twitter has been summoned by a Parliamentary panel to present its views on “safeguarding citizens’ rights on social/online news media platforms”. The social media giant was summoned in just days after the members of Youth for Social Media Democracy, a right-wing group, protested outside its office in Delhi, alleging that Twitter has acquired an “anti-right-wing attitude” and has been suspending right-wing accounts. The summons was announced on Twitter by Anurag Thakur, who heads the Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology and is a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Social media has played a critical role in politics across nations in recent years, more so during elections, including the 2016 US presidential elections. Tech leaders, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai, have said their companies stepped up efforts to contain fake news and the spread of misinformation and have reported in recent Congressional hearings that their respective platforms are unbiased. Nevertheless, with social media increasingly becoming influential in how politicians around the world engage with their followers, with the BBC highlighting in a report last year how Twitter has been utilised by the BJP, it is necessary and important that the Indian government engages with it to ensure the platform doesn’t promulgate biases. That said, Twitter policies on suspension of accounts are the same for all colours in the political spectrum and focus on unauthorised trademark use, unauthorised use of copyrighted materials, sale or promotion of counterfeit goods, violations of privacy policy specifics on children, child sexual exploitation, pornography, impersonation of an individual or brand, privacy violations, abusive behaviour and violent threats, spam and system abuse. It relies on user reports and reviews of the reports. So, even if a larger number of right-wing accounts are found to have violated any of these terms, it is likely to be perceived as bias against right-wing opinion despite the problem lying perhaps in how these opinions are articulated. So, the Parliamentary panel—which should be concerning itself with many egregious violations of technology and social media in the country—needs to perhaps ascertain first whether the controversy over “political bias” is an imagined one, or otherwise.

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