Calls to “shoot” farmers protesting against controversial agricultural reforms in India, the trend ran for hours on Twitter on Tuesday, as thousands of tweets encouraging police brutality against them flooded the platform.
Violence bursts in the Indian capital on Tuesday after thousands of farmers, who have camped on the outskirts of New Delhi for nearly two months to protest government agricultural reforms that they say will hurt their livelihoods, entered the town and clashed with the police. Protesters broke through police barricades around the city and stormed the Red Fort, a national historic monument. The police used heavy batons and fired tear gas canisters. Authorities have also shut down internet access in parts of the capital, which Indian authorities do often to cancel the protests. At least one protester died.
On Twitter, supporters of India’s Hindu nationalist government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, called the protesting farmers “terrorists” and encouraged police brutality against them. “They are not farmers. They are worms, wearing fake farmer masks, ”one of the viral tweets read, which uses the hashtag“ #shoot ”. “Asking @AmitShah #shoot on sight is only an option,” another tweet said, identifying India’s interior minister and Modi’s right-hand man responsible for law and order in the country.
“Hit them with your batons, Delhi police,” editor of pro-government propaganda blog tweeted in hindi. “We are with you.”
Tuesday morning, “Shoot” was one of the hottest topics on the platform in India, besides the Hindi phrase “Dilli Police lath bajao” – which loosely translates to “Delhi Police, hit them with your batons. “.
“Shoot” remained in the Trends section of Twitter in India for at least two hours. He only disappeared after a public outcry and after BuzzFeed News emailed asking for comment. The company also deleted the blog editor’s tweet, claiming he was breaking Twitter rules and suspended his account for 12 hours. Still, the phrase in Hindi encouraging the police to use their batons remained a hot topic for at least an hour. A search for “#shoot” revealed hundreds of tweets asking police to shoot at protesters.
“We have taken steps today to protect the conversation on our service from attempts to incite violence, abuse and threats which could trigger the risk of damage offlineA Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “Our team will take strict enforcement act judiciously and impartially on content, trends, Tweets and accounts that violate the Twitter Rules. We strongly encourage all users of the service to familiarize themselves with the Twitter rules and report everything they believe is in violation. We are monitoring the situation closely and remain vigilant. “
A day later, Twitter released a new statement saying it had suspended more than 300 accounts involved in spam and platform manipulation. “We are monitoring the situation closely and remaining vigilant, and strongly encourage members of the service to report anything they believe is in violation of the rules,” the company said.
In the United States, multiple technological platforms including Twitter permanently banned former President Donald Trump from the platform after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. Trump had been banned from the platform “because of the risk of further violence”, tweeted Vijaya Gadde, Legal, Policy, Trust and Security Manager at Twitter. Last year the company put a caution on one of the former president’s messages on the Minneapolis protests that read: “[When] the looting begins, the shooting begins. “
But experts have argued that Silicon Valley-based companies like Twitter and Facebook have a double standard when it comes to applying their own policies globally. In non-Western countries like India, which has fallen into authoritarianism under the Modi government in recent years, technological platforms often evolve slowly or do not act against people who use them as a weapon to cause damage in the real world.
Last year, for example, Twitter left dozens of tweets doxing Hindu-Muslim interfaith couples remain on the platform until BuzzFeed News asks the company about them. In December, protesters gathered outside Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Claiming the social network was censor content posted in support of Indian farmers protesting. And the Wall Street Journal reported Ankhi Das, a senior Facebook executive in India, had blocked the company from taking action against a politician in Modi’s party for posting hate speech, saying it would harm the company’s business interests.
“Powerful interests around the world have learned that the tools of Silicon Valley can be used to create a bonfire on human rights, but the only time platforms care is when they get bad press, ”Alaphia Zoyab, director of advocacy at Reset, a nonprofit that aims to tackle the information crisis created by technology platforms, told BuzzFeed News.
“When Silicon Valley has to choose between protecting commercial interests or protecting human rights, it chooses the former,” she added. “The point is, their current business model is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and freedom, because a determined army of trolls on the side of those in power can simply hijack the platform to demand violence.
Gadde did not respond to a request for comment, and Twitter declined to respond whether accounts in India promoting violence would be banned permanently.