CONGRESS LEADER Rahul Gandhi is not the first to have an issue with his Twitter count. A few years ago, for instance, Amitabh Bachchan tweeted a complaint: “Dear Twitter Management, its quite amazing how you manage to keep numbers of followers CONSTANT, & not moving AT ALL despite maximum activity!! well done!! I mean how do you keep the score board from not moving despite every ball being hit for a 6!!’. Soon after Gandhi’s letter to Twitter’s chief executive officer highlighting the stagnation of his follower count became public, the journalist Barkha Dutt also tweeted this: “Cant say about Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter account and his specific complaint but I can confirm a freezing of my follower count; it has not moved more than two years plus – and once again its the absence of transparency on big tech platforms thats the real travesty.” Gandhi correlated what happened to his account to him taking up anti-Government issues like the farmers’ protests. But if it is not a problem only faced by him, then it is hard to see evidence of a conspiracy. A Twitter spokesperson’s reply to Gandhi’s letter seemed to suggest that this is just algorithms weeding out bots.
A few things are still noteworthy. One, Gandhi’s assertion in his letter that Twitter should be an ally against authoritarianism. This is the opposite of what Twitter’s imprint has been in recent political history. The company might be made up of woke liberal employees but the technology itself has been more useful for the Donald Trumps of the world, who came out of the blue to hold the most powerful position in the world purely by a greater understanding of public psychology and how to exploit it through social media. Twitter might have thrown Trump out but there are millions of other similar aspiring politicians
following the playbook. The public likes authoritarians and it is difficult to do anything about it unless they cross some line that Twitter has drawn. This line is impossible to define, and therefore anything that Twitter does seems arbitrary. The algorithms reducing Gandhi’s follower count are designed to make the platform fairer but what it gets are accusations of bias because no one on any political spectrum has faith in Twitter’s good intent.
Twitter’s real problem is that it tries to police its platform, but it is simply an impossible project given the complexity of what it is trying to police. Take marital rape. Should they ban anyone who is saying it should not be criminalised? From an American woke sensibility, that would be self-evident. But it is still the law in India that marital rape is not a crime. How is an algorithm to negotiate between the moral and the legal, when nothing is clear? The only thing Twitter can do is to not do anything at all. The price for being unbiased is to let a free-for-all prevail as used to happen in the early years of Twitter. It might lead to murkiness but that is why laws exist in the offline world.