Modi govt, Twitter and the ‘unverified’ strategy of chasing that blue tick


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A nuclear weapon State, a formidable IT superpower, Asia’s second-fastest growing major economy and a thriving democracy at that — it is a no-brainer to guess what India’s global and strategic priorities would be. The obvious progression would be towards attaining a permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. But going by the happenings of the last few weeks, much of the Narendra Modi government’s energy is being spent on writing stern letter to an Australian newspaper, figuring out the mythical toolkit behind Western media coverage of its pandemic mismanagement and chasing blue ticks of PM Modi’s new power elite.


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Strategic objective and the blue tick

Expanding soft power, influence and image management are goals that every country aspires to achieve in today’s world, even during a global pandemic. And that can happen through engaging in new-found global issues of concern — from tackling Covid challenges in collaboration with other countries to pushing “vaccine diplomacy” or even making the age-old diplomatic attempts at entering the all-powerful clubs. But the latter is a long-term goal that will take years to achieve, if at all. So as a country, what do you do in the short term for image management when you are already under the scanner for your disastrous handling of the pandemic? You fight for your membership of the blue tick club. After all, even that’s international recognition, considering Twitter has a global audience and influence. Unfollow me if I am wrong.

In the Twitter blue tick, the Modi government and its supporters seem to have found a far more formidable strategic objective to consolidate.

This past weekend, the micro-blogging site found itself at the centre of a controversy after it dropped the much sought after badge of recognition by many Twitter influencers, the blue tick verifications, from the accounts of India’s Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Now that’s what you call punching above one’s weight and not knowing your limits, as the RSS-BJP supporters would say.

The social media giant’s policy behind removing verifications from inactive accounts is sound enough and the restoration of these blue ticks was swift, but what was concerning was the outcry over this incident.

NDTV, for instance, quoted government sources stating that the social media company “wants to test India’s patience”, while pro-government accounts were quick to call out Twitter for this supposedly terrible injustice.

Why is a country with over 1.3 billion people going after the tiny blue bird and its blue tick? The answer is that it is a new political system that lives on and buys Twitter and WhatsApp. They have weaponised both and now don’t want to lose a game they have perfected.

Not everyone is Kangana Ranaut. Why suggest moving to Koo as a mark of protest when you can lambast the San Francisco-headquartered company while still using its platform?


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IT rules spillover effect?

In isolation, this may just seem like a few fringe individuals making a lot of noise, but Twitter and the Modi government have been engaged in controversy for months now, ever since the government released “new rules for digital media platforms and intermediaries” in February. With the deadline for complying with the new rules expiring on 25 May, the spat is now out in the open, for everyone to read. No more ‘DMing’ is what the government and its supporters are saying.

Particularly amusing, and alarming, was Delhi Police’s raid on Twitter India offices after the “manipulated media” incident, only to find the buildings empty as all its employees were working from home.

A fitting response to a farcical situation. The strategic priorities of the people running the country during a pandemic have not only been laid bare, but have provided useful ammo for the opposition, as Rahul Gandhi and Nawab Malik found out in the past few days.

But then, in this era of social media-driven, Trumpian politics, wouldn’t the Congress party have reacted with the same anger and ferocity if one of the Gandhi siblings were robbed of their blue-ness? 

Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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