On January 8th, Twitter permanently suspended President Donald Trump’s account after an internal review. The American microblogging service claimed that the president’s tweets posed a “risk of further incitement of violence”. Twitter has also clarified that if the president starts using another account, it shall also be suspended because of the reasons mentioned earlier.
However, Trump’s more than 56,000 tweets posted to the account between 2009 and today are available on The Trump Twitter Archive.
Twitter also suspended the accounts of Gen. Michael Flynn, lawyer Sidney Powell and a few other proponents of QAnon conspiracy theory. The supporters of the QAnon theory believe that a global “Deep State” cabal of satanic pedophile elites is responsible for all the evil in the world. The same elite, argue the pro-Trump QAnonists, wants to bring down Donald Trump.
Facebook has also blocked Trump and suspended his account. “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” wrote Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook.
In November 2020, Facebook removed a pro-Trump group, Stop the Steal, after it gained more than 350,000 members in a single day. The group was established by Women for America First, a right-wing not-for-profit group.
The way Facebook and Twitter stepped in to stop an isolationist, exclusivist, protectionist and racist president from spreading false information, hatred, and lies has raised two sets of questions: a) should the corporations and tech giants like Facebook and Twitter have a right to decide what a leader can say or cannot say? Is it a threat to the leaders’ right to free speech? Are Facebook and Twitter new defenders of public order in post-fact society? How to evaluate and restraint their power in a democracy? b) How do the same companies react when a leader in the developing world follows Trump’s footsteps and targets religious minorities and other marginalized groups? Do Facebook and Twitter show the same level of concern and swiftness when powerful politicians in South Asia spread lies or incite violence? Do these companies consider South Asia a community or a market?
This essay does not seek to answer the first set of questions which demand a scholarly discussion and a large-scale public debate to determine new rules of the game in digitized democracies. I attempt to highlight the role of social media giants in spreading hatred against Muslims and weaker segments of society in South Asia. The bottom line, I would argue, is that neither objective principles nor public pressure regulate the policies of these companies rather economic interests and political benefits make all the difference.
The recent examples from India and Pakistan can help us understand how these tech-giants operate in developing societies to benefit the powerful.
A report published in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that due to economic interests “Facebook deliberately ignored its own hate speech policies and allowed Islamophobic speech to remain on its platform in India to avoid upsetting the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)”. Twitter and Facebook did not dare remove T. Raja Singh from the sites even after he said that “Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot, called Muslims traitors and threatened to raze mosques”.
In response to The Wall Street Journal’s report, Ankhi Das, public policy director of Facebook India, resigned from her post. She has been replaced by Shivnath Thukral, who is said to have close ties with the BJP.
The social media sites’ disregard for human rights and fundamental liberal values can further be gauged from the fact that they do not allow the people of Indian occupied Kashmir, “the most heavily militarized regions in the world” to speak up for their rights. Facebook appears to have close ties with the present fascist Hindu regime of PM Narendra Modi, to the extent that it has censored the phrase “Free Kashmir”.
A report by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) revealed that the occupied valley has seen at least 229 killings during more than 100 military operations since January 2020. From January 1st, 2020, to June 30th, the region witnessed extrajudicial executions of at least 32 civilians and the killing of 54 armed forces personnel, the report stated.
Experts opine that the underlying idea behind the strict implementation of the draconian laws and state high-headedness is to transform Kashmir’s Muslim majority into a Hindu majority so that it could be technically taken over. However, Facebook and Twitter continue to show their apathy and sheer disregard for human rights violations in the valley under Narendra Modi’s watch.
Similarly, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister who was disqualified by the Supreme Court for not being honest and truthful, has not only blamed the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and the Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (DG ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, for stealing the General Elections 2018 but also incited the army to mutiny.
Nawaz’s videos are still available on social media sites, where he calls the democratically elected Prime Minister a puppet. Interestingly, the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) expressed satisfaction over the July 25th, 2018 election, and the overall process. It said that the elections were free, fair, and transparent. Although there were minor irregularities in the electoral process, yet the overall election was free and fair, and, hence, its results are “credible”, it added.
In its preliminary report, the European Union Election Observation Mission said that no rigging had been observed during the election day in general, but found a “lack of equality” and criticized the process more than it had in the Pakistani election of 2013.
Both Twitter and Facebook did not take Nawaz’s speeches down to stop the spread of lies and a malicious campaign against the state institutions because Nawaz is said to have good ties with Narendra Modi and the international establishment.
India has successfully entered into its post-democratic era after losing all its secular and democratic credentials. Democracy will find no legs to stand on if liberal institutions are abolished and fascists capture political power to further the interests of a regime following a majoritarian rule. In India’s drift to extremism and Hindu fascism, the role of Facebook and Twitter shall always be remembered.
In the case of Pakistan, Twitter’s inability to silence those spreading lies and potentially disturbing the public order has raised serious questions about the future of democracy in the country. These digital platforms were once considered the new defenders of democracy and liberalism where minority views are not only expressed but also protected. The discriminatory application of rules can potentially lead to organized indigenous campaigns against these sites which may lead to a serious intellectual crisis in the long run.
Farah Adeed is Assistant Editor, Global Village Space (GVS). The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy.