Amit Malviya has been investigated for a misleading video about police violence in Delhi.
On Wednesday, Twitter tagged a video labeled “Manipulated Media” tweeted by the head of the social media department of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party in India. Labeling tweets isn’t new – Twitter has been putting inaccurate tweets from US politicians, including President Donald Trump, since March.
But it was the first time the company captioned a tweet from a prominent Indian politician signaling it might finally be ready to do what critics have been asking American social media platforms for years – the same standards on the Rest of USA apply world as in USA.
The three-second clip was tweeted by Amit Malviya, infamous for posting misinformation as part of his party’s propaganda machine. It shows a police officer in Delhi swinging a baton at a farmer, one of the thousands of people who brave tear gas, water cannons and police barricades to protest against India’s new agricultural policy.
The policeman in the clip is missing. According to the caption, “the police did not even touch the farmer”. Malviya’s tweet left the false impression that the police hadn’t hurt the man.
But other police officers attacked the man shortly after the video clip was cut. Fact-checking websites say a lengthy version of the video shows a second police officer swinging the farmer who later revealed his injuries to the press.
Twitter also applied the label to other instances of the same video that were tweeted by other people.
Malviya didn’t respond to a request from BuzzFeed News for comment, but a Twitter spokesperson said he had violated the company’s guidelines against compromised media.
“The referenced tweet was flagged based on our synthetic and rigged media policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. Clicking on the label will take you to a Twitter compiled summary of the debunks by fact checkers and links to those debunks.
The policy that Twitter announced in February defines “synthetic and manipulated media” as images or videos that have been “significantly altered or created to change their original meaning / purpose, or that certain events have occurred that have not actually did not happen. The company first applied the label to a deceptively edited video of now-elected President Joe Biden in March that was shared by White House social media director Dan Scavino and retweeted by the US President, and has been on multiple tweets since then applied by Trump.
Although the Twitter spokesman said the policy will be “enforced globally,” the company declined to cite other cases of the label being applied to accounts in non-Western markets. (In the past, Twitter has deleted or hidden tweets from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Brazilian politician Osmar Terra for violating the Coronavirus Misinformation Policy.)
Digital rights activists have long said that American tech companies haven’t done enough to prevent damage from their platforms outside of the US and Europe. Platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and YouTube have been accused of not only polarizing political discourse but also fueling ethnic massacres in South Sudan, lynchings in India and genocide in Myanmar.
“When it comes to flagging misinformation and compromised content, companies are starting to take more action, but they need to get better results outside of the US,” said Dia Kayyali, assistant director of advocacy at Mnemonic, a human rights organization. “We saw them pour huge resources into the US and create more content than anyone could have imagined. Unfortunately, they haven’t allocated that many resources outside of the US yet. “
In India, experts say Twitter was forced to flag Malviya’s tweet after it was consistently viewed by the press, fact-checkers and people on social media. “It is the result of years of continued criticism,” Pratik Sinha, editor of Alt News, an Indian fact-checking website, told BuzzFeed News. But he said, “This is a first step. It’s too early to be happy “
It’s also too early to see what results the label might have. Flagging a tweet from a prominent member of the ruling party of India could provoke backlash in a country where Twitter sees a major growth market.
BJP politicians have accused Twitter of being “biased” against conservatives. Last year, Colin Cromwell, Twitter vice president for global public policy, published a blog post entitled “Setting the Record Directly on Twitter India and Impartiality”. Three days later, an Indian parliamentary committee berated the Indian executives of the company for the company’s alleged bias.
The label is also significant because the video Malviya tweeted was in response to a tweet from Rahul Gandhi, an opposition leader at India’s National Congress, the country’s oldest political party and BJP rival – which means Twitter is the facts one party says are wrong.
Twitter declined to provide details on why it chose to flag Malviya’s tweet in particular. “To determine if media has been altered or manufactured in a material and misleading way, we may use our own technology or receive reports of partnerships with third parties,” said a Twitter spokesman.
“BJP members,” said Kayyali, “cannot say what they want just because they are politicians.”