November 11, 2019
Users of Twitter in India have begun moving over to a rival platform, after complaints about the company's moderation policies.
Complaints began when a user had their account suspended on two occasions for tweets which the company claimed were against its policy. This has led to the threat of legal action, sparking a debate which has consumed Indian Twitter over the weekend.
Mastadon, an open-source social media platform, looks set to benefit, with many claiming that they will simply ditch Twitter and post there instead.
Why are Users Turning on Twitter?
The issues for Twitter began when the social media giant suspended the account of prominent lawyer Sanjay Hegde. In an interview with the BBC, Mr Hegde stated that the offending Tweet was a photograph of German national, August Landmesser, refusing to perform a Nazi salute at a rally in 1936. After complaints, Twitter later reinstated the account, but the photo was removed. His account was suspended again when he posted a poem entitled ‘Hang Him' by Gorakh Pandey.
“It is clear from the above that suspension of my Client's Twitter account is arbitrary, illegal and (against) Twitter's own policies. The same is also an infringement to my client's right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution. The Honourable Supreme Court of India has repeatedly held that even private bodies that discharge a public function to the constitution scrutiny.” – Part of the notice Hegde sent to Twitter
The threat of legal action sparked debate on Twitter, with Indian users voicing their disapproval of the company's moderation policies. Some claimed that its approach was spotty at best, targeting certain issues quickly, while leaving others unchecked. Many named the fact that the hashtag #BoycottAllMuslims had been allowed to trend on Twitter the month before, seemingly with impunity. At the same time, many women took to Twitter to complain of the way that threats against them were ignored and not taken seriously by the company. The activity on the platform over the weekend has left many vowing to leave the platform in protest, with rival Mastadon a popular alternative choice.
How Has Twitter Responded?
Twitter was quick to respond to the allegations against it and the groundswell of distrust from its users, stating that it was ‘impartial', and didn't have any political or ideological preference:
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.
— Twitter India (@TwitterIndia) November 7, 2019
It also reiterated what is, and isn't, allowed on its platform, including its stance against hateful media, and that it is ‘committed to serving an open public conversation in India', and that it would be transparent in its efforts.
However, the statements didn't please everyone. Replies in the thread made reference to having reported offensive accounts previously and no action being taken. Others complained about systematic discrimination against certain castes and tribes, such as Dalits and Adivasis.
What is Mastadon?
The backlash against Twitter has been beneficial for Mastadon, a rival social media platform, with many influencers claiming that they will be moving their accounts to the site. While Mastadon doesn't quite have the reach that Twitter does (it has around 2.2 million users, compared to Twitter's 330 million), it does benefit from a dedicated following, thanks to its open source approach. Users are able to create their own servers, each with its own guidelines, allowing users to join the communities they most identify with. The company was quick to acknowledge its new users this weekend, with a ‘toot' (the name for a message on the platform) making note of a new policy against the casteism, the very thing that Indian users are leaving Twitter for:
Mastadon first launched in 2016, and has been growling steadily since then, although still has some way to go before it can rival the larger social media platforms. It has benefited from outrage before, with last year's #DeleteFacebook campaign, spurned by concerns about data privacy, seeing a large uptick in users.
It remains to be seen if those that are promising to switch to Mastadon will actually do it, and whether or not they'll be followed. Switching to another platform can be a huge risk, and drastically reduce a person's following overnight.
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