Rangoli Chandel and controversy fit together like a hand in a glove. Be it quarreling with journalists over her sister and actress Kangana Ranaut, crass language or, recently, the demand to dismiss 2024 Assembly Elections to "help" India fight coronavirus, Chandel has over the past few years ensured grabbing headlines. But it seems Chandel, who is also Ranaut's manager, has finally crossed a line. At least according to Twitter.
In the wake of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation held in Delhi being tagged a "hotspot" for the spread of the virus, Chandel recently took to Twitter and posted a tweet so bigoted and full of hate speech against Muslims that it shocked the nation. On Wednesday, Chandel posted a tweet saying, "A Jamaati dies of corona...when police went to check their families they were attacked and killed, secular media," she wrote. Chandel further added, "...make these mullas + secular media stand in a line and shoot them dead... f***k history, they may call us Nazis (but) who cares. Life is more important than fake image".
The communally charged and deeply Islamophobic tweet instantly went viral and was mass reported for abuse by hundreds of Twitter users. Many pointed out that the tweet was not just an example of hate speech but also perpetuated fake news.
Jewelry F designer and former sister-in-law of Hrithik Roshan, Farah Khan Ali tweeted seeking Chandel's instant arrest "Arrest this woman immediately for spreading vicious hatred and for calling of killings of a community @MumbaiPolice Do also block this account@Twitter @TwitterIndia @jack for spreading religious hatred and fascism."
Not one to back down, Chandel viciously attacked each of her detractors including Farah whom she attacked at a personal level. The vitriol was such that even Twitter, which is known to be lax with action against problematic discourse, had to take cognizance and suspend Chandel's account.
Many wondered why, despite mass reports and such obvious violations of Twitter's policies against speech, the platform failed to take down the tweet on time. It was only on Thursday when outrage against the tweet grew to a crescendo that Twitter finally took note. By the time it was removed, the tweet had already garnered thousands of views, likes and shares.
Twitter's policies clearly lay down rules regarding hate speech and incitement of violence. In fact, on March 5, Twitter even updated its policies to include "dehumanising" tweets as part of hate speech.
"We create our rules to keep people safe on Twitter, and they continuously evolve to reflect the realities of the world we operate within. Our primary focus is on addressing the risks of offline harm, and research* shows that dehumanizing language increases that risk".
Despite such "rules", Twitter has often been criticised for failing to take action against hate speech, especially when a defaulter is a well known person. In 2019, Twitter had claimed that it will take action against all account holders who post tweets that incite violence, make threats of violence against a person or community. Depending on the context, even accounts of world leaders would not be spared. It also came up with an update that would ensure that tweets that violated Twitter's policies but were in "public interest" would not be removed but would appear with a warning label.
The rules have not yet been visibly implemented. The San Francisco based company has, however, on several accounts been accused of misusing its right to ban users and suspend accounts. In 2017, Twitter faced flak for suspending the account of popular LGBTQIA rights activist and writer Anthony Oliveira's Twitter account. In India as well, Twitter faced flak and was accused of casteism after it suspended the accounts of a number of Dalit activists and refused to give blue "verified" ticks to handles of anti-caste and Bahujan scholars.
Even with the suspension of Chandel, many on Twitter have now started outraging against the move. A Twitter user alleged that Twitter only took don Chandel's post because Farah Khan tweeted against it but that Khan herself was guilty of tweets that may incite violence against a community.
Not a fan of Rangoli Chandel but it seems, she has been suspended at the behest of one Farah Khan Ali who herself is a hate-monger and has been inciting violence against the members of the RSS by comparing Sangh to ISIS.— Sonam Mahajan (@AsYouNotWish) April 16, 2020
I wonder, why hasn’t the RSS filed an FIR against her yet? pic.twitter.com/wGcGMrDvDm
Another user alleged that Twitter was discriminating against Chandel, who is an acid attack survivor, on the behest of a powerful "blue-ticked" account. Khan also defended against the accusations in a tweet.
It’s a shame that an acid attack victim has such venom in her. It’s bn years since that happened &Rangoli Chandel has recovered physically but shocked with the hatred she spews day in & out stating to kill ppl from a certain community &compares herself 2 Nazis brazenly. @Twitter https://t.co/tmwJLxRKz8— Farah Khan (@FarahKhanAli) April 16, 2020
Yet another user wondered if the real reason Chandel was suspended was her tweet demanding the cancellation of 2024 election in favour of keeping Narendra Modi as Prime Minister for one more term.
Days ago #Rangoli Didi had suggested that 2024 elections be called off (to save money for #coronawar) & Modi Ji should continue as PM— Akash Banerjee (@TheDeshBhakt) April 16, 2020
The price she paid for this brilliant idea was this
Just wait #Twitter - #Kangana didi will make a Hrithik out of you#BhaktBanerjee https://t.co/swInadvYcp
Nevertheless, with the coronavirus pandemic deepening in India and increasingly taking on a communal colour, the need of the hour is to sift through fake and accurate news and keep Islamophobia and incitement of communal violence in check. Over the past month, several attacks on medical health professionals have been reported. Since the Tablighi Jamaat incident, many Muslims in India have faced discrimination and bigotry, much of which played out on social media under viral hashtags like #coronajihad and #NixamuddinIdiots. In the wake of such toxic hate, one is forced to wonder if Twitter is really doing its part in implementing its hate speech policies.
But for today, let's all take solace over small victories and hope the platform buckles down on offenders such as Chandel who don't think twice before the hateful targeting of a community, even at a time of global crisis and tragedy.