"Twitter has complied with government requests to censor 52 tweets that mostly criticized India’s handling of the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. These tweets, which are now inaccessible to Indian users of the social media website, include posts by Revanth Reddy, a sitting Member of Parliament; Moloy Ghatak, a West Bengal state minister; actor Vineet Kumar Singh; and two filmmakers, Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das. " - Medianama (dated: 25-04-21)
After PM Modi laid emphasis on the spread of misinformation and warned the public not to indulge in fake news through his monthly "Mann ki Baat" radio program, the Indian Government sent a legal request to the social media platform, that led to the deletion of about 50 posts flagged by the center as spreading 'fake news' about the pandemic.
While the government is justifying its stance on the issue as tackling COVID-19 misinformation, it's fascinating to examine the nature of the tweets removed. Most of the tweets featured criticism of the poor tackling of the COVID-19 crisis by the government. In a time when the Indian government's actions are being criticized worldwide, back home the picture seems to be in the process of manipulation. The question arises, Why is the government suddenly so worried about the spread of misinformation when the spike in covid cases is at an all-time high?
It is important to understand that while there is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 being circulated on social media platforms by not just citizens but political leaders as well, it is not an opportunity for those in power to silence the voices of citizens and opposition leaders questioning and criticizing the authorities.
India's handling of the COVID crisis has ignited fear not just on a national level but internationally as well. Various countries have shown distrust in India's ability to handle a medical emergency that could have been prevented, especially after it claimed everything to be under control.
"Amid rising number of coronavirus cases in the country, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan on Tuesday assured, "The situation is under control," reported news agency ANI. "However, we don't have to be complacent in terms of observing COVID appropriate behavior," Vardhan further added, according to ANI. At least 430 districts in India have not reported a single case of coronavirus in the last 28 days, he mentioned." - Mint (dated: 30-03-21)
As India desperately looks for possible solutions to deal with the second wave of COVID-19, the government's measures seem to fall short. Hospitals are running out of beds and crucial medical supplies, the health infrastructure is on the brink of a collapse and politicians are busily polarizing the public by playing blame games. While the situation only seems to be getting worse day by day, international help looks like the only last resort. It is disheartening to see official authorities use the backdrop of public interest to dust off accusations and accountability. Although this instance feels like reaching a new low for one of the largest democracies in the world, it is essential to acknowledge that this isn't the first time the Indian Government has decided to go down the path of resistance and restriction.
"Twitter made headlines in February for blocking around 250 accounts for tweeting, or retweeting, with a controversial hashtag related to the farmers' protest against the center's farm laws. Account-holders were accused of making "fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets". Hours later the accounts - many of which belonged to journalists or media platforms critical of the center - were unlocked." - NDTV (dated: 25-04-21)
It would occur to any functioning authority dealing with a grim medical emergency to first and foremost focus on the issue by coming up with a strong action plan backed by efficient policies, instead of diverting attention to save its public image. However, India seems to have a way bigger problem ahead, the problem of maintaining peace and stability in a time when the general public is openly questioning and criticizing the motives of the government. This problem has been witnessed by the government in the surge of the farmer's protest, as well. And while locking up activists for sharing online toolkits did not do much good in the long run, the use of technological tools to manipulate public opinion might reap some benefits in the current day and age.
Image Credit: Flaticon
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