Twitter has been "unwittingly complicit" in curbing free speech in India, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote to the company's CEO Parag Agrawal last month, alleging a government campaign to suppress his reach on the platform, according to a letter seen by NDTV.
In a letter dated December 27 that included an analysis of data from his Twitter account as well as comparisons with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, Mr Gandhi said that while he added an average of about 4 lakh followers for the first seven months of 2021, the growth came to an abrupt halt for several months following an eight-day suspension in August last year.
In the same period, other politicians maintained their new followers' count.
"Perhaps not so coincidentally, it was precisely during these months that I raised the plight of a rape victim's family in Delhi, stood in solidarity with farmers and fought the government on many other human rights issues. In fact, a video of mine that promised farmers that the 3 infamous farm laws will be repealed is among the most watched video on Twitter posted by any political leader in India in recent times," Mr Gandhi wrote.
"I have been reliably, albeit discreetly, informed by people at Twitter India that they are under immense pressure by the government to silence my voice. My account was even blocked for a few days for no legitimate reason. There were many other Twitter handles, including Government ones, which had tweeted similar photos of the same people. None of those accounts were blocked. My account was singularly targeted," he added.
"I am writing to you on behalf of more than a billion Indians to not allow Twitter to become a pawn in the destruction of the idea of India," Mr Gandhi said.
A Twitter spokesperson quoted by news agency ANI said the follower counts are "meaningful" and "accurate". "Twitter has zero-tolerance approach to platform manipulation and spam. We fight spam and malicious automation strategically and at scale with machine learning tools, and as part of those consistent and ongoing efforts to ensure a healthy service and credible accounts, follower counts can and do fluctuate," the spokesperson said.
Follower counts are a visible feature&we want everyone to have confidence that numbers are meaningful&accurate. Twitter has zero-tolerance approach to platform manipulation&spam: Twitter spox on Rahul Gandhi's letter to Twitter stating that no.of his followers seeing a drop (1/3) pic.twitter.com/HiU0QORYcR— ANI (@ANI) January 27, 2022
Earlier, a Twitter spokesperson quoted by The Wall Street Journal declined to comment on Mr Gandhi's accusations but said that follower counts fluctuate as the company uses machine learning to combat spam and manipulation, adding that millions of accounts are removed each week for violating twitter's policies against activities such as malicious automation.
The Congress, however, rejected the explanation with Srivatsa YB, in charge of digital communication for Mr Gandhi's office, telling the newspaper, "This is neither a fully explanatory nor a satisfactory response... The chronology of events does not corroborate Twitter's claims."
Twitter and other social networking platforms like Facebook have faced growing scrutiny in India and the company had last year flagged "the potential threat to freedom of expression" in the country and "the use of intimidation tactics by the police" at height a clash with the government over its new rules for the sector. The statement was prompted by a visit by the Delhi Police to its offices over a political row involving the Congress and the government.
Read the full letter here: