The call to “shoot” peasants protesting controversial agricultural reforms in India ran for hours on Twitter Tuesday as thousands of tweets encouraging police brutality against them flooded the platform.
Violence broke out in the Indian capital on Tuesday after thousands of farmers who have been camping on the outskirts of New Delhi for nearly two months to protest government agrarian reforms aimed at reducing their livelihoods entered the city and clashed with police . Protesters broke police barriers around the city and stormed the Red Fort, a national historic monument. The police used heavy batons and fired tear gas cartridges. Authorities have also blocked internet access in parts of the capital, which officials in India often do to quell protests. At least one protester died.
On Twitter, supporters of the Hindu nationalist government of India, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, called the protesting farmers “terrorists” and encouraged the police to use brutality against them. “They are not farmers. They’re worms who wear fake farmers’ masks, ”read one of the viral tweets in which the hashtag“ #shoot ”was used. “Requesting @AmitShah #shoot at view is only an option,” said another tweet tagging India’s interior minister and Modi’s right-hand man, who is responsible for law and order in the country.
“Hit them with your batons, Delhi police,” tweeted the editor of a pro-government propaganda blog in Hindi. “We are with you.”
On Tuesday morning, “Shoot” was one of the top trending topics on the platform in India alongside the Hindi phrase “Dilli Police lath bajao”.
“Shoot” stayed in the trending section of Twitter in India for at least a couple of hours. It didn’t go away until after there was a public outcry and after BuzzFeed News emailed a request for comment. The company also deleted the blog editor’s tweet, which broke Twitter rules, and banned her account for 12 hours. Still, the Hindi phrase that encouraged police to use their batons remained a trending topic for at least another hour. A search for “#shoot” resulted in hundreds of tweets urging police to shoot protesters.
“We took steps today to protect the conversation on our service from attempts to incite violence, abuse and threats that could create the risk of offline harm,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “Our team will reasonably and impartially use strict enforcement measures for content, trends, tweets and accounts that violate the Twitter rules. We strongly encourage all members of the service to familiarize themselves with the Twitter rules and report anything they think is against the law. We are closely monitoring the situation and remain vigilant. “
A day later, Twitter issued a new statement that more than 300 accounts dealing with spam and platform tampering had been banned. “We are closely monitoring the situation and remain vigilant and strongly encourage employees to report anything they believe is against the rules,” the company said.
In the US, several tech platforms, including Twitter, have permanently banned former President Donald Trump from the platform after his supporters stormed the US Capitol earlier this month. Trump had been banned from the platform “because of the risk of further violence”, tweeted Vijaya Gadde, Twitter director for law, politics and trust and security. Last year the company posted a warning sign on one of the former president’s posts about the protests in Minneapolis that read: “[When] The looting begins, the shooting begins. “
However, experts have argued that Silicon Valley companies like Twitter and Facebook have double standards when it comes to enforcing their own policies worldwide. In non-Western countries like India, which has slipped into authoritarianism under the Modi government in recent years, technology platforms often move slowly or do not move against people who use them as weapons to cause damage in the real world.
Last year, for example, Twitter kept dozens of tweets doxing interfaith Hindu-Muslim couples on the platform until BuzzFeed News asked the company about them. In December, protesters gathered outside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, claiming the social network was censoring content posted in support of protesting Indian farmers. And the Wall Street Journal reported that Ankhi Das, a top Facebook executive in India, prevented the company from taking action against a Modi party politician for posting hate speech, saying it would harm the company’s business interests .
“Strong interests everywhere have learned that Silicon Valley’s tools can be used to create a human rights bonfire, but the platforms only care if they get bad press,” said Alaphia Zoyab, advocacy director at Reset, one nonprofit nonprofit organization BuzzFeed News said to tackle the information crisis caused by tech platforms.
“If Silicon Valley has to choose between protecting business interests or protecting human rights, they will choose the former,” she added. “The fact is that their current business model is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and freedom, because a determined troll army in the camp of those in power can simply hijack the platform to demand violence.”
Gadde didn’t respond to a request for comment, and Twitter declined to reply whether accounts in India that encourage violence would be permanently banned.