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Twitter ban on Kangana: Experts see action on hate speech, but not transparency


Experts are looking at Twitter’s permanent ban on Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut as a sign that the social media platform might finally be cracking down on hate speech in India. But internet policy experts that indianexpress.com spoke to also stressed that more transparency was needed around these issues.

“Better late than never. Despite Government of India’s petulant attempts at censorship by forcing platforms, Twitter is finally walking the walk. Hate speech has no place on such platforms,” Mishi Choudhary, technology lawyer and online civil liberties activist told indianexpress.com.

While Apar Gupta, executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation, said he did not wish to comment on specifically Ranaut’s suspension, given the platform has not disclosed details, he added that the move, “does signal a more alert enforcement.”

“Twitter’s past conduct has been incredibly disappointing with the platform in India being a venue for engineered hashtags that have encouraged communal bigotry, threats against women, minorities and dalits even by public personalities. The enforcement actions it has adopted in western developed nations, specifically the United States have been absent in India which are in breach of human rights standards,” he told indianexpress.com.

Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend Kangana Ranaut from the platform came after she posted a tweet around Bengal violence where she appeared to be urging the Prime Minister to retaliate using violence. Ranaut’s permanent suspension is the first high-profile one from India, — the actor was seen as a repeat offender by the platform.

Earlier this year, Twitter permanently suspended former US President Donald Trump, but followed it up with a detailed blogpost explaining why it had taken the decision to boot Trump from the platform. But in Kangana’s case, Twitter has only issued a statement stating that the account was a repeat violator of its policies around hateful conduct. According to Twitter’s own policy, a permanent suspension is the strictest enforcement policy it can adopt.

The blog post on Trump’s suspension said that Trump’s tweets could have inspired others “others to replicate violent acts” and “they were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.” In contrast, Kangana’s suspension lacks such details adding to confusion around how these take place, especially when celebrity and high-profile accounts are concerned.

According to Gupta, one cannot simply consider social media platforms as private corporations given they have increasingly come to occupy the space of a public square. “Because of their vast reach and user base they (social media platforms) act as vital spaces for free speech and expression. Hence, there is a need for the application of human rights standards which are applicable to corporations,” he said.

In his view, more transparency is needed for any act of social media censorship, especially in instances of hate speech that is done by public personalities. This can help “set consistent standards of application and fair notice to users of the platform,” he explained.

“More qualitative data about content removal or blocking of accounts is a necessary requirement. The pretense of transparency reports will turn into something meaningful if platforms release more data,” Choudhary said.

It should be noted that under the IT Rules, 2021, which were notified in February this year, social media platforms such as Twitter have to establish proper grievance redressal mechanisms. Further, users can also approach the platforms asking for details around any possible suspensions. Technically, even Twitter’s own rules allow Kangana to file for an appeal, though it is unclear whether she plans to do so.

But as Gupta states, the current incident needs to be seen beyond the specific personalities. “Silicon valley platforms have immense power that is today being harnessed in a cynical way for political objectives rather than governance. There are organised and well-funded operations that game their platforms and create a media ecology that is leading to social fracture and a loss of constitutional fraternity,” he said.

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