Indian Twitter is in a state of panic over disappearing retweets and likes.
Since yesterday (Feb. 12), many Twitter users from across the world have been complaining of what seems to be a glitch on Twitter that is miscalculating the number of likes and retweets on the micro-blogging platform.
A few hours after users pointed out this problem, Twitter acknowledged it and said it was working on a resolution.
However, this statement didn’t stop the issue from fuelling a political controversy that’s already roiling India.
A political twist
Many Indian users on Twitter alleged that the disappearing likes and retweets were part of an attempt by the microblogging platform to discriminate against right-wing voices in India.
Some used hashtags like #TwitterMischief and #TwitterInsultsIndia, and claimed that the platform was boosting the number of retweets received by liberal politicians, including Rahul Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party.
Those who drew this connection included Nupur Sharma, a spokesperson of the ruling, right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, another BJP spokesperson, also retweeted many of the tweets alleging this connection.
These allegations feed into recent claims by BJP supporters that Twitter is politically biased.
On Feb. 05, India’s parliamentary committee on information technology, led by a BJP parlimentarian, summoned Twitter officials to testify on the subject of “safeguarding citizens’ rights” online. This came after months of complaints, and even a protest outside Twitter’s New Delhi office, by BJP supporters and officials who claimed they were being unduly censored on the microblogging platform.
“To be clear, we do not review, prioritise, or enforce our policies on the basis of political ideology. Every Tweet and every account is treated impartially,” Twitter said in a Feb. 08 statement addressing the India controversy. It added that employees of the Twitter India office “do not make enforcement decisions,” in order to “ensure fairness and objectivity.”
The parliamentary committee reportedly cited this as a reason to turn officials from Twitter India away from its meeting on Monday (Feb. 11) when they showed up to testify, saying that if they don’t make enforcement decisions then there would be no point meeting with them. Instead, the panel said that Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, or another senior member of its global team, would have 15 days to appear before it.
Harassment on Twitter, especially against women and marginalised groups, is an acute problem in India. Many accounts, including left-wing ones, have been suspended for violating Twitter’s terms of service, which prohibit abusive behaviour.
Issues of supposed censorship on social media platforms are likely to only become more controversial in the coming months, as India heads into its next general election this spring.
Read Quartz’s coverage of the 2019 Indian general election here.