The decision of key U.S. social media platforms to ban outgoing President Donald Trump has caused much consternation among the Indian right-wing and supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Following Facebook’s decision to indefinitely ban Trump from its platform, and Twitter’s first temporary, and then permanent, suspension of @realDonaldTrump, key pro-BJP voices have spoken out against it, and in the process, revealed their worry that Facebook and Twitter might crack down on them at some point in the near future.
On January 9, Amit Malviya, the head of BJP’s information and technology department, tweeted about the two social media giants’ decision to suspend Trump’s account: “Deplatforming Donald Trump, a sitting US president, sets a dangerous precedent. It has less to do with his views and more to do with intolerance for a differing point. Ironically, those who claim to champion free speech are celebrating. Big tech firms are now the new oligarchs.” Malviya’s unit has been repeatedly accused in the past of managing a troll army that seeks to drown out voices critical of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The day before, a BJP member of parliament, Tejasvi Surya (who, in the past, has used social media accounts to express deeply offensive opinions) also noted on Twitter, by way of quote-tweeting the platform’s decision to permanently suspend Trump’s account: “This must be wake up call for all who don’t yet understand threat to our democracies by unregulated big tech companies. If they can do this to POTUS, they can do this to anyone. Sooner India reviews intermediaries [sic] regulations, better for our democracy.” Surya also tagged India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, nominally responsible for internet regulations, in his tweet.
Aarti Tikoo Singh — while officially not a member of the BJP but someone who is widely seen as amplifying positions of the party and the Modi government — took matters a step further in a January 9 tweet, noting: “By censoring American Conservatives @Google @YouTube @Facebook @Twitter & Co. have demonstrated that they are emulating the Chinese Communist Party model of CONTROL. They are fully on the DARK side now. Time for India to have its own Internet & its own social media platforms.” Tikoo Singh, who frequently rails against the Democratic Party — especially after a run-in with Representative Ilhan Omar during a hearing session on the Modi government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status, in October 2019 – had noted the day before: “In the face of Communist & theocratic states, democracies were bound to fail in a globalised world. As a result, deep states & big corporations found an opportunity to take over in democracies. We are now living in the Age of Super State, both in democracies and dictatorships.”
All of this because social media giants booted an insurrectionist president half-way across the world from their platforms — a decision some consider years too late.
The BJP under Modi has leveraged social media to the hilt for its election campaigns, in ways both fair and foul. Modi was the second most followed world leader on Twitter, after Trump, in 2020; however, unlike Trump, his conduct on social media is staid, careful and statesman-like. But that said, social media platforms have enabled him, like Trump, to bypass traditional news outlets. (In his six years in office, Modi has not held a single press conference.) However, on several instances, Facebook has been accused of giving a free pass to BJP and allied political forces, even when the platform has been held responsible for being a conduit in violence against Muslims in India. Modi and some of his cabinet colleagues also continue to follow social media users who regularly post questionable — albeit pro-BJP — content.
BJP supporters worry that the social media giants’ push back against Trump may just be the beginning of a sustained campaign against the far right the world over – and that the party may be on their cross-hairs soon.