As it intensifies the crackdown on bots, trolls, and fake accounts, Twitter has blocked several accounts in India, including the handle of polling app ‘MyVoteToday’ that in a recent poll had asked people who they want to be ‘silenced’ and listed options of chief ministers, Opposition politicians and journalists, among others.
A Twitter spokesperson told PTI that it would “not tolerate behaviour that harasses, intimidates or uses fear to silence another person’s voice” but declined to comment on any individual account.
“This account has been suspended,” is a response one got when the ‘MyVoteToday’ handle is searched on Twitter. Also, 27 other handles run by the promoter of ‘MyVoteToday’ have been blocked.
“Our investigation found this account violated the Twitter rules,” a ‘MyVoteToday’ follower posted as the response received from Twitter.
‘MyVoteToday’ (@MyVoteToday), which had claimed to be the world’s second largest pollster and a “research partner of Government of India”, was created by Apption Digital Technologies Pvt Ltd based in Bengaluru and Apption Digial Inc based in Palo Alto, California.
In a recent poll, MyVoteToday had asked, “To #MakeIndiaGreatAgain which of the 66 alleged #EnemiesofIndia have to be silenced” and listed 66 persons, who were critical of government policies.
The list had the names of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Congress leaders — Sonia Gandhi, P Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid — CPM’s Sitaram Yechuri, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah as well as several journalists, professors, artists, students and separatists.
In another poll, it had asked people who they among a list — that included Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kerjiwal, Bollywood stars Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan — want to be ‘slapped’.
The Twitter spokesperson said it does not comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons and does not give out country-wise numbers on the accounts that have been blocked recently.
“We take the safety of our users very seriously and do not tolerate behaviour that harasses, intimidates or uses fear to silence another person’s voice,” the spokesperson said.
While Amit Bagaria, the promoter of Apption Digital, could not be reached for comments today, the Indian Express quoted him saying that the Twitter’s move was a “conspiracy to defame him” and these accounts were “wrongly locked or suspended”.
Twitter, which like Facebook is becoming more vigilant about any abuse of its platform for spreading misinformation, has been weeding out fake accounts by the millions.
“The Twitter rules also state that you may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of spamming anyone. This includes posting duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts,” the spokesperson said.
Further, the spokesperson said, “we have a range of enforcement options that we may exercise when conducting a review for possible violations of the Twitter Rules, led by an international team that takes into consideration both local and global context”.
A permanent suspension is resorted to when an account violates rules in “a particularly egregious way” or has repeatedly violated them, the spokesperson said, adding, “violators can appeal permanent suspensions if they believe we made an error”.
As on May 2018, Twitter had “identified and challenged” more than 9.9 million potentially spammy or automated accounts per week globally. This had led to number of spam reports dropping from an average of about 25,000 per day in March to 17,000 per day in May.
Last week, the US daily The Washington Post reported that Twitter has sharply escalated its battle against fake and suspicious accounts, suspending more than 1 million a day in recent months, in a bid to lessen the flow of disinformation on the platform.
“Twitter suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June, and the pace has continued in July, according to the data,” the Washington Post said in a report on July 6.
The report said that the extent of account suspensions is one of several recent moves by Twitter to limit the influence of people it says are abusing its platform.