Is Twitter censoring content that criticises India over Kashmir?

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Shafaqna Pakistan:The social media giant stands accused of prioritising Indian voices and censoring Kashmiri and Pakistani voices that criticise the Indian government.

For the past three weeks, millions of Muslims in Kashmir have been mostly cut off from the rest of the world. India is implementing the opening phases of amounts to Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist settler-colonial project in the disputed territory.

India has shut down the Internet and mobile phones, while Indian security forces deny freedom of movement in the valley. New Delhi is doing everything within its power to prevent Kashmiri voices expressing real fear, anxiety and anguish to a global audience.

Silencing Kashmir is one part of India’s communications strategy, and the other is feeding misinformation and patently false claims about how Kashmiris have welcome India’s repressive moves. The notion itself is absurd given New Delhi announced on Friday it had re-imposed the curfew and deployed thousands of additional paramilitary troops to stop protests.

Even more alarmingly are credible claims that social media giant Twitter is working in cahoots with New Delhi, or is at least operating in a manner that’s sympathetic to the Modi government’s anti-democratic moves in Kashmir and bias against Pakistan.

Last week the Pakistani government complained to Twitter about 200 individual accounts that had been suspended for posting about India’s move to arrest political leaders, block communications, and deploy thousands of more troops to Kashmir.

Twitter, however, denied the allegation, telling Pakistan’s English language newspaper Dawn that its user policies ensure impartiality, regardless of the user’s country of origin or political beliefs, with a spokesperson for the social media platform saying “there’s no political bias in its content review teams that determine what content is considered a violation of its rules.”

The spokesperson for Twitter refused to comment on the reasons 200 individual accounts in Pakistan had been suspending for posting about Kashmir, saying, “We don’t comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.”

I’m sorry, but Twitter’s denial doesn’t even pass a basic smell test. In fact, what the social media platform is claiming demonstrably stinks.

For several years, pro-Kashmir activists have complained about having their tweets deleted or accounts suspended by Twitter for criticising the Indian military’s widely reported human rights violations in the territory.

“My account is withheld and shadow-banned in India, which is illegal, and Twitter says it doesn’t do it, but it can’t explain why people don’t see my tweets or replies without searching,” Helene Sejlert, a Swedish born human rights activist who has been speaking and writing on Kashmir for five decades, told me.

“It’s a systematic attempt to silence the growing awareness of the injustice committed against the Kashmiri people.”

Sejlert then explained how many who express support for Kashmir or criticism of the Indian government, like her, receive a “legal notification” advising they are violating Indian law, despite not being in India.

She sent me a screenshot of another notification that read, “@HerNameIs_Bea’s [her Twitter handle] account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.”

It’s important to understand Sejlert is not an irresponsible Twitter account user. She doesn’t post inflammatory, discriminatory, or even hyperbolic content. She holds academic qualifications in International Relations and reports factually on Kashmir both online and in the media.

Asif Khan, an Indian human rights activist in Mumbai, explained how Twitter routinely censors his tweets, telling me, “When I tweet about Kashmir or use some hashtag related to Kashmir, Twitter marks my posts as “sensitive content,” which means whenever someone shares my post, my tweet won’t be visible [unless they click on it] to their followers.”

When pro-Kashmir activists seek an explanation from Twitter for why they’ve had their tweets deleted, marked “sensitive” or had their accounts suspended, they are typically told nothing.

“No reasons are given, and even if I provide identification, they still don’t reply. I’ve now sent 15 emails [to Twitter], which have included long texts with loads of references and academic input, but still no reply,” said Sejlert.

The idea that Twitter is an impartial platform built on fairness and equality for all is patently absurd, given it’s a for-profit corporation based in the United States, and thus its corporate decisions are driven almost entirely by the quest for ever-higher revenues while, at the same time, synching itself with US foreign policy objectives.

One only has to see the manner in which it suspends and removes accounts belonging to countries that oppose the United States like Iran, Russia, and China, while rarely or reluctantly taking action against users who support the overarching policy objectives of the world’s most powerful nation-states.

Pro-Palestinian activists have long spoken out against this dynamic, claiming Twitter enforces a much stricter policy against them than it does with accounts that express support for Israel because of the United States’ “special relationship” with the Middle Eastern power.

In regards to the profit motive, Twitter views the entire Asia-Pacific region as a “huge growth engine,” and India as a major revenue centre, with the company pointing to how the Indian Premier League generated 27 million tweets during the 2019 cricket season, representing a 44 percent jump on the previous year.

Given India’s economy is more than 30 times the size of Pakistan’s, one can see why Twitter views the Hindu majority country as a far greater cash cow than Pakistan, and why then that might lead the platform to behave in a decisively pro-Indian manner, particularly in regards to Kashmir.

Ultimately, Twitter is demonstrating that its ethical and moral concerns are driven only by the dictum of economic might is right – and at a time when Kashmiris have never been more in the dark.