By Nikhil Pahwa, MediaNama
Update: Twitter declined to comment on what determines trends and their ranking, and their response, as expected, is short enough to fit into a 140 character limit. “Twitter is a neutral platform, we aren’t aligned with any particular party,” a Twitter spokesperson informed us via email.
Earlier Yesterday: Twitter‘s India Head, Rishi Jaitly, appears to be caught in a middle of a political debate: the neutrality of the platform is now being questioned, Jaitly is being criticised, and his tweets are being scrutinized for political leaning. Niti Central, a right leaning website backed by Netcore founder Rajesh Jain, has published an article with a sampling of Jaitly’s tweets, including those where he asks his followers to watch a Rahul Gandhi speech, asks a Congress spokesperson to follow him, so he may DM (direct message) her.
In particular, they have questioned the neutrality of the platform, since a hashtag apparently promoted by the Congress part #fekuexpress, trended higher than #NaMoInHyd on a day that the BJP’s Narendra Modi addressed in Hyderabad, by citing data which indicates that there were more tweets for #NaMoInHyd than #fekuexpress.
The Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy has this to say:
Beware that Twitter in India has a boss who attends meeting in Congress offices
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) August 23, 2013
— Dilip Chalil (@chalil) August 22, 2013
Storm in a tea-cup, you might say, but I do think that Twitter needs to respond to this criticism: leading up to the elections, Jaitly’s tweets and Twitter’s trending hashtags will come up for debates, and the company can’t afford to stay silent when its credibility is being questioned. Jaitly will probably end up censoring his tweets from now on, and that is the problem with the political activity on Twitter in India: if the government doesn’t censor you, the rabid mobs will. As I’d said on my personal blog, after being unfairly criticized by Niti Central, that both parties, the Congress and the BJP, are drowning out legitimate debate by not only attacking each other on Twitter, but also reacting to criticism by attacking the person criticizing them. It’s a with-us-or-against-us scenario. Jaitly has now gotten caught in the crossfire: There are also those (on Twitter) to claim that he was brought in for dealing with the Indian government, and they have been MediaNama’s story on Jaitly’s appointment (we broke that story), as an indication of this.
— Barkha Dalal (@barkhadalal) August 12, 2013
— A K Narendranath (@aknarendranath) August 14, 2013
To that, I would say that that was the only relevant information we had about Jaitly at that point in time: Neither Jaitly not Twitter were not commenting on his role, and since we had some perspective on his role at Google India’s only policy person in 2008, that is all we pointed out. My understanding of Jaitly’s role now, on the basis of coversations with those in the digital industry in Mumbai, is that he tries to bring organizations – especially media organizations – on Twitter, and help them integrate Twitter ID’s and hashtags with TV shows, especially entertainment shows. It is not impossible that another part of his mandate, with the elections coming up, would be to help explain Twitter to political parties. Half the time, he tweets about the way a particular TV channel has integrated Twitter with a show, but I don’t see rival channels criticizing him for being partisan.
On the Twitter hashtags controversy, we’ve requested Twitter for a comment – and it does appear to be legitimate criticism, based on the data (which we can’t verify), but I don’t know if Twitter Trends are merely based on number of tweets. Anyway, I wouldn’t hold my breath, though: we’ve rarely got more than a one line response from Twitter.
(c) Medianama 2013. This article is brought to you in association with Medianama, the premier source of information and analysis on Digital and Telecom businesses in India.