Twitter users in India have raised questions about the method adopted by Twitter for verification of accounts of eminent personalities, journalists and opinion makers in India. It has been alleged those with left-leaning ideology are being verified more often than those with right-leaning ones.
Users have said that there appears to be no criteria on which Twitter verifies or denies verification of a Twitter handle. A perception has emerged that journalists and opinion makers who are part of the “Lutyen’s circle” or belong to the “liberal camp” were being promoted by Twitter India by verifying their handle, while those who are not seen as a part of that “group” were being denied verification.
Anand Ranganathan, an author and scientist who has done extensive research on the kinds of accounts and account holders Twitter India has been verifying, pointed out a very “alarming trend” that was being set by Twitter, which saw that people and personalities perceived to have “left” leaning ideologies were being verified more often than the ones with “right” leaning ideologies.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Ranganathan said, “The process of verification of Twitter accounts is very opaque and I don’t know what criteria they actually follow while verifying an account. As you have also seen, even persons having a huge number of followers have not yet been verified, while I have come across persons with as few as 150 followers whose accounts have been verified. Even I had a problem when Twitter was verifying accounts on its own, but when the rules changed last year, I finally got a blue tick before my name.”
“When one looks at the comparative list of verified account holders and persons who deserve to be verified, it clearly shows a bias on their behalf, as more and more people belonging to the so-called left-liberal groups were being verified by Twitter India,” Ranganathan said.
Well-known RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha, who has more than 1.5 lakh followers on Twitter, said that it took him almost a year to get his account verified after repeated attempts. His account was also suspended for a few hours on Friday, following a tweet on Pakistan mutilating Indian soldiers’ bodies. An annoyed Sinha alleged that Twitter is biased towards a particular ideology and told The Sunday Guardian: “I had tweeted about the mutilation of our soldiers by Pakistan, following which Twitter suspended my account saying that I had violated its rules. It was only after I followed up with Twitter over emails and rang up my contacts on Twitter, that my account was restored with a warning that if I tweet something like this the next time, my account would be suspended again.”
Despite having over seven to eight lakh Twitter followers, the accounts of journalists like Sucheta Dalal, Managing Editor of Moneylife and Executive Editor of India Today, Gaurav Sawant, have not yet been verified by Twitter, while the accounts of many journalists who do not have even 2,000 followers on Twitter have been verified. Even the account of R. Jagannathan, Editorial Director of Swarajya, has not yet been verified by Twitter. The accounts of eminent columnists like Tavleen Singh, Ashok Malik, economist Surjit Bhalla, despite having tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, have also not been verified yet.
Madhu Kishwar, noted columnist and human rights activists, told The Sunday Guardian that she had gone through a harrowing time while getting her Twitter account verified. “It took me almost a year of persuasion and follow-ups to get my Twitter account verified despite the fact that I had a large number of followers and my Twitter account had been hacked as well. The reason for the denial to verify my account was also not being given to me. I do not know why they were doing that. I had never been abusive on Twitter; I am a renowned face. I think Twitter likes to only verify accounts that go for India bashing and Hindu bashing and they do not like to recognise people who speak the truth,” Kishwar added.
A verified Twitter handle is seen as more credible and hence its impression is many times more than that of a handle that has not been verified.
“Many Kashmir-based individuals, some very young, who are not associated with any organisation, have also been verified. The common thing in them is that all of them espouse the cause of ‘azadi’ and claim to show to the world the ‘reality’ of what is happening in Kashmir and Twitter India obviously wants to give them credibility. On the other hand, many journalists who write against appeasement and bust the cause of separatists are not verified to curb their reach, it is so obvious,” a journalist who covers internal security for a news agency said.
At least four such journalists who are seen as having “anti-separatist” mindset or are working for news organisations that regularly disseminate information against them, too, told The Sunday Guardian that their request for verification had been repeatedly denied by Twitter despite all of them sticking to “Twitter Guidelines” and tweeting responsibly. “No reason, whatsoever, was given by Twitter for refusal to verify my handle. It does upset you when you see people, who are ‘independent’, bashing India and the government and have been given a ‘blue tick’ by Twitter, while those who counter those arguments are still struggling to get ‘verified’,” another journalist working for an English daily said.
Emails sent to Twitter India seeking their response on its alleged bias did not generate any response till the time this story went to press.
Till early last year, Twitter had been verifying accounts on its own, mostly of individuals or groups working in the field of music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas, but it had changed the rules of its verification in June last year. Now, the applicant or the account holder needs to submit a request through a request form to get their accounts verified and if the account qualifies under Twitter’s “verification criteria”, it is marked with a blue tick badge.