It has been a long week for Twitter India. A lot has happened. The latest of which is thousands of regular Twitter users are now dumping the popular social media platform to join the newly found open-source social media platform called Mastodon.
In March, Mandal had tweeted about a book called "Bahujan Agenda" and had included the name and contact information of the author so that those interested could contact him. Mandal told News18 that he had the author's consent. And yet on October 2, his account was suspended due to violation of privacy.
The incident unleashed a wave of anger on the microblogging site. #RestoreDilipMandal and #CasteistTwitter became national trends. A nervous Twitter responded with reinstating Mandal's account and in time quietly verifying it. But the anger that had been simmering for years had finally boiled over. Activists, academics and influencers took to the microblogging site in hordes to accuse Twitter of discriminating against Bahujans by refusing to verify their accounts or suspending them without due cause. Not accepting Twitter's response to quietly verify some famous accounts (apart from Mandal, accounts of Chandrashekhar Azad and Kush Ambedkarwadi were also verified) overnight, users demanded that Twitter cancel all blue ticks from Twitter in order to make the platform more equal and representative of diversity.
According to Mandal, the movement did not grow out of the blue but had been silently building for years. "The latent anger was caused by lack of diversity in intellectual and professional spaces that form civil society, be it in newsrooms, in courts, in corporate boardrooms," Mandal said, adding that the anger against the "selective" blue tick was just the trigger.
Apart from Mandal, suspension of another influential account of tribal leader Hansraj Meena, who runs a page called Tribal Army, caused massive outrage. And it's not just suspensions. According to Mandal, despite being highly popular scholars, academics, actors or even politicians, many Bahujan influencers were not allowed to verify their accounts. "They say they have closed the process of verifications. Yet new accounts are being verified every day, even if they don't have followers or actively spread hate on Twitter," he said.
Supreme Court lawyer Nitin Meshram said that a verified account on Twitter meant legitimacy and in turn higher engagement. "Twitter is one of the most potent mediums of mass communication today and it actively contributes to suppressing Bahujan voices," Meshram told News18. Without the blue tick, it becomes hard for influencers to convince followers of their legitimacy.
Meshram pointed out that several prominent SC/ST/OBC voices on Twitter such as Three-time MP and grandson of BR Ambedkar, Prakash Ambedkar, sitting MP Thol. Thirumavalavan, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries Milind Kamle also did not have verified accounts.
It isn't just politicians and industry experts who do not get verified accounts, Oxford University fellow Tejas Harad pointed out. Kaala director Pa Ranjith, Sairath director Nagraj Manjule and Marathi actress Rinku Rajguru, none of whom have verified Twitter handles despite being well-known faces.
Harad said that the showering of blue ticks was only "damage control", stating that such token moves would not really help solve the problem. However, the fact that they were giving blue ticks meant that someone "up there" was noticing.
But what about accounts of people who are not as famous as Mandal or Chandrashekhra Azad? Sujatha Subramaniam who joined Twitter to follow and contribute to the social discourse in the country told News18 that her account was suspended on September 27 without any kind of intimation to her. Since then, she has raised the issue with Twitter twice but in vain. The latter has told her neither the reason for her suspension nor the rectification process through which she can get her account back.
Those like Meshram and Harad are thus now hoping that Twitter comes up with a more transparent and standard policy for account verification and suspension. They demand that Twitter add a "review suspension" option for users so that they can find out what particular tweet or content got them banned so that they can avoid such mistakes in future. Transparency would increase the legitimacy of the platform and also reduce chances of discrimination.
This is not the first time that Twitter has been embroiled in a caste-controversy in India. Last year, incidentally also in November, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey's closed-door meeting with certain woman journalists where he endorsed a "Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy" poster enraged many in the country. Critics called Dorsey "anti-Brahmin" and called for a boycott. Dorsey responded by issuing a statement in which he apologised for hurting sentiments and recused himself from the mess by claiming the poster was just a gift, much to the ire of agitated anti-caste activists who accused Twitter's administration of buckling under right-wing pressure.
This November, the company did something similar. In a statement released after the controversy, Twitter denied having partial rules for different users. "We have one set of Twitter Rules and we enforce our policies judiciously and impartially for all individuals — regardless of their political beliefs, religious ideology, professional position or background," they said.
They also ensured that it provided reviewers extensive training that covered gender and religion (including caste) so that reviewers need understand the "local context they need to evaluate content". It also regurgitated that the verification process was "currently closed" but admitted that accounts of those who were "active in the public conversation on Twitter" were verified on a "case-by-case" basis.
"We work with political parties to verify candidates, elected officials, and relevant party officials around the time of elections. We have a dedicated global process for managing these selected verifications," Twitter said.
The response, as per Meshram was laughable. "Blue ticks have become symbols of caste oppression and for Twitter to pretend otherwise reveals their lack of commitment to their own statements," the lawyer told News18, adding that in time he was planning to take the matter up legally in a US court.
Harad pointed out, however, that a far easier way to check if Twitter was truly following the tenet of diversity it was preaching was to find out the regional heads of Twitter India. "Their surnames will give you a hint," he joked.