New Delhi: Scores of officers from Delhi Police’s Special Cell arrived at Twitter India’s offices in Delhi and Gurgaon on Monday evening ostensibly in order to understand why the social media platform had chosen to label a controversial tweet by BJP chief spokesperson Sambit Patra about a purported Congress ‘toolkit” as “manipulated media”.
The raid comes two days after the Narendra Modi government warned Twitter to remove the label – seen as a setback to the BJP and a victory for the Congress – and marks a dramatic escalation in official pressure on the company.
While the notice the information technology ministry sent on Friday had refrained from specifying the consequences of non-compliance, it had said the matter is pending investigation before a law enforcement agency and that flagging Patra’s tweet in this manner amounted to the company prejudging the outcome.
Two teams of Special Cell were at the Twitter India offices located in Delhi’s Lado Sarai and Gurgaon, on the outskirts of the national capital. Sections of the media were alerted in advance so that the police action could be filmed, suggesting the authorities had optics – rather than any serious investigation –in mind.
“We want to know what information Twitter has about the toolkit and why they chose to give the ‘manipulated media’ label. Our team is conducting raids at their Delhi office in Mehrauli and their Gurgaon office on Golf Course Road,” a senior police officer from the Special Cell told the Indian Express and added that their team had sent a notice to Twitter in connection with the case.
Another unnamed officer claimed the police had only tried to ensure that its notice to Twitter was duly received.
Whether the aim was a raid or the serving of notice, Apar Gupta, a lawyer with the Internet Freedom Foundation, saw Monday night’s police action against Twitter as a case of intimidation:
An action to serve a notice can be done through email and post or with multiple police personnel. When it is the latter will create a sense of threat that goes beyond ordinary legal compliance (which itself is doubtful). It is signalling & not to be trivialised.
— Apar (@apar1984) May 24, 2021
Delhi Police PRO Chinmoy Biswal said that a complaint had been received asking Twitter for a “clarification” on why Patra’s tweet had been classified as ‘manipulated media’. “It appears that Twitter has some information which is not known to us on the basis of which they have classified it as such… police want to find out the truth. Twitter should clarify,” said the PRO.
He did not say who had filed the complaint, or why this complaint had led to speedy police action when the Congress’s original complaint about a forged document being circulated had not.
Patra’s May 18 tweet led to the Congress filing an FIR at the Tughlaq Road police station the same day. It was flagged as ‘manipulated media’ by Twitter on the evening of May 20 and the IT ministry’s protest was lodged on May 21. The same day, Delhi Police Special Cell sent Twitter India’s MD a notice demanding his presence the following day.
It is not clear why the Special Cell got into the act, given that the FIR was lodged with the Tughlaq Road PS, or whether similar notices have been served on Patra, BJP president JP Nadda and other senior BJP leaders named by the Congress in its complaint.
Some reporters quoted police sources as saying the raiding party had gone only to serve notice on Twitter that its officials join the investigation. “Our team went to Twitter offices to serve a notice to Twitter, as a part of routine process. This was necessitated as we wanted to ascertain who is the right person to serve a notice, as replies by Twitter India MD have been very ambiguous,” an unidentified police official was quoted as saying.
Delhi Police Special Cell team returns from Gurgaon after they find the Twitter India offices shut. Apparently there is work from home at @TwitterIndia since March last year. Was this move by Government to send out a message? pic.twitter.com/aCBfjhb5CC
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) May 24, 2021
A number of BJP and RSS leaders had tweeted about the alleged toolkit with the hashtag #CongressToolKitExposed to attack the Congress party on social media. “Friends look at the #CongressToolKit in extending help to the needy during the Pandemic! More of a PR exercise with the help of “Friendly Journalists” & “Influencers” than a soulful endeavour,” said a tweet by Patra. The document contained a range of purported social media directives for party workers to use to attack the prime minister for his disastrous handling of the current wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fact-checking website AltNews had also published a detailed report which established that the document shared by the BJP’s top brass was created on a forged Congress letterhead.
A day after Patra posted the contested tweet, the Raipur police registered an FIR against former Chhattisgarh chief minister and current national vice-president of BJP Raman Singh, Patra, and others on the complaint of Akash Sharma, president of the Chhattisgarh chapter of the Congress’s student’s wing, the National Students Union of India (NSUI).
The Congress has also written to Twitter, demanding the social media giant remove those tweets and permanently suspend the accounts of those who shared the fake toolkit. The letter said that top BJP functionaries had used Twitter as a platform to disseminate “false information” which could “cause social unrest in the country, amidst the current pandemic.”
A spokesperson from Twitter India declined to comment on the issue in response to queries from The Wire.
(With inputs from PTI)