Police Probe BJP Leaders Over Controversial Social Media Post

Indian authorities are investigating senior figures from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) following a controversial social media post that has stirred accusations of anti-Muslim sentiment.

The contentious animated video portrays senior leaders from the opposition Congress party favoring Muslims over marginalized communities. The depiction sparked outrage, prompting swift action from law enforcement.

Shortly after the police initiated their inquiry, the Election Commission intervened, directing the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) to remove the video, citing a breach of Indian laws. Despite this, there has been no immediate response from either X or the BJP.

The Election Commission’s intervention came after its electoral officer in Karnataka, where the video originated, had previously instructed X to take down the post. However, this directive was not promptly executed. Notably, the video surfaced just days before voting in Karnataka, which concluded recently.

This is not the first instance of such divisive content from the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has echoed similar sentiments during campaign rallies, alleging preferential treatment towards Muslims by opposition parties.

As India progresses through a general election cycle, regulations prohibit political parties from exploiting religious issues for electoral gains. Nonetheless, critics argue that PM Modi and his Hindu nationalist party are resorting to blatant Islamophobia, flouting the electoral code of conduct.

India, with its substantial Muslim population of around 200 million, has witnessed a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric since the BJP ascended to power in 2014.

The video, initially shared on the BJP’s social media platform in Karnataka, has garnered widespread attention, accumulating over nine million views on X. It depicts caricatures of prominent Congress leaders, Rahul Gandhi and Karnataka Chief Minister K Siddaramaiah, allegedly favoring Muslims over other marginalized groups.

Following a formal complaint lodged by the Congress party with the Election Commission, the Karnataka police registered a case against BJP President JP Nadda, the party’s Karnataka chief, BY Vijayendra, and the head of its IT department, Amit Malviya.

Criticism of the video has poured in from various quarters. Congress MP Manickam Tagore condemned the BJP’s tactics, urging the Election Commission to intervene and uphold the principles of unity in a democratic setup.

British academic Nitasha Kaul likened the video to propaganda reminiscent of 1930s Germany, emphasizing its violation of election regulations.

Opposition leaders and civil society groups have decried BJP’s campaign tactics as divisive and unacceptable. Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale lamented the erosion of ethical standards in the ongoing election.

Congress leader Salman Anees Soz lamented the blatant anti-Muslim sentiment propagated by the BJP.

This incident follows a similar episode where the BJP posted a misleading video on Instagram accusing the Congress of favoring Muslims over non-Muslims, further exacerbating communal tensions.

Despite facing backlash, PM Modi continues to make controversial remarks, including accusations of “vote jihad” and insinuations aligning the Congress with Pakistan’s interests.

Critics argue that such rhetoric not only violates electoral norms but also exacerbates communal tensions in the diverse fabric of Indian society.

Twitter’s Move Against Manipulated Media: A Step Towards Accountability

In a notable turn of events, Twitter took action against Amit Malviya, the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell, by tagging one of his tweets as ‘manipulated media’. This marks a significant departure as it’s the first instance of Twitter applying restrictive measures against a prominent Indian political figure.

This move comes in the wake of Twitter’s recent policy adjustments aimed at curbing the dissemination of misinformation on its platform. One of the key changes introduced by Twitter is its heightened vigilance towards manipulated media, a policy that was initially outlined in November 2019.

The genesis of this policy can be traced back to Twitter’s recognition of the need to address a broader spectrum of deceptive media practices compared to its counterparts like Facebook. While Facebook primarily focused on combatting deepfakes—videos synthesized from scratch—Twitter’s approach was more encompassing. It took into account user feedback indicating a preference for contextualization over outright removal of manipulated media.

The precedent for such actions was set when Twitter flagged a video posted by then-US President Donald Trump in June 2020. Trump’s tweet featured a clip portraying two toddlers of different races hugging, with a CNN-like chyron falsely insinuating racism. This manipulation was promptly identified by journalists, who clarified that the original story was about the friendship between the children.

In contrast, the tweet by Malviya didn’t involve doctored media but rather an edited clip designed to distort reality. The edited footage, in response to a widely circulated image showing a policeman seemingly striking an elderly farmer during protests, was used by Malviya to propagate a narrative suggesting that the baton didn’t actually make contact with the farmer. Moreover, Malviya dismissed accusations of government violence against peaceful protesters as opposition propaganda.

However, a closer examination of the events, as elucidated by an Alt News article, reveals instances of police resorting to lathi charges against farmers, who retaliated with stone-pelting. Various news outlets reporting from the scene corroborated this, depicting scenes of violent police action in response to farmers breaking blockades.

Twitter’s decision to flag Malviya’s tweet as ‘manipulated media’ hinges on its policy’s emphasis on preventing deceptive usage of media content. The platform’s Synthetic and Manipulated Media policy stipulates that sharing media in a manner intended to mislead or deceive, thereby fostering confusion or misunderstanding, warrants intervention.

While Twitter’s efforts to hold political leaders accountable for misleading content have garnered praise, questions linger regarding the consistency of its application. Internationally, the last instance of Twitter invoking its ‘synthesized or manipulated media’ clause against political figures dates back to September 2019, when it restricted tweets from journalists and government accounts in Cuba following President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s address regarding an energy crisis exacerbated by US sanctions. This move drew criticism, with concerns raised over potential censorship and selective enforcement of platform manipulation policies.

In the Indian context, despite evidence suggesting widespread misuse of social media for propagating misinformation, Twitter’s response has been perceived as inadequate. Reports indicate the existence of thousands of fake accounts amplifying fake news, particularly associated with major political parties like the BJP and Congress. Despite such findings, Twitter has yet to take decisive action comparable to its response in other regions.

Furthermore, Twitter’s compliance with government directives, such as the removal of tweets critical of the Indian government in Kashmir and the withholding of Kashmiri accounts in India, has sparked controversy. Critics argue that such actions raise questions about Twitter’s commitment to free expression and its impartiality in addressing sensitive geopolitical issues.

Moreover, Twitter has faced criticism for its perceived inaction against instances of online abuse, particularly those rooted in misogyny and casteism. This perceived bias has prompted some users to explore alternative platforms like Mastodon in protest.

Twitter’s move to flag Amit Malviya’s tweet as ‘manipulated media’ signifies a step towards holding political figures accountable for deceptive content. However, questions persist regarding the platform’s consistency in enforcing such policies, especially in contexts like India where the spread of misinformation is a pressing concern.

Truth Social Shares Plummet, Trump’s Stake Loses Billions in Value

Shares of Truth Social, the social media platform launched by former President Trump’s company, Trump Media & Technology Group, have experienced a significant downturn in the past couple of weeks following its initial surge.

According to recent reports, the company’s shares plunged by 8% on Monday, following a 12% drop on Friday. This downward trend has pushed the stock to its lowest level since its trading debut on March 26, indicating a volatile market performance with notable fluctuations.

This decline has had a substantial impact on the value of Trump’s stake in the company. As the majority stakeholder, Trump saw the value of his shares plummet from a peak of over $6 billion during the trading debut to approximately $2.9 billion as of Monday.

Despite this significant valuation, analysts have raised concerns regarding the company’s financial standing. Trump Media & Technology Group reported a loss of $58 million in the previous year, coupled with a modest revenue of just over $4 million. Such figures have prompted skepticism about the inflated value attributed to Trump’s stake.

Moreover, Trump’s ability to offload his shares is restricted until September under the current agreement. However, he retains the option to request permission from the board of Trump Media to divest some of his stake ahead of schedule. Notably, the board comprises individuals with close ties to Trump, including his son, Donald J. Trump Jr., and former administration officials.

Despite warnings from analysts about the detachment of the company’s stock value from its actual financial performance, support for Truth Social persists among individual investors. Many of these investors are believed to be ardent supporters of Trump, contributing to the sustained trading activity of the company’s shares.

Misinformation Fuels Surge in Food Bank Usage Among International Students in Canada

In London, Ontario, a surge in visits to the local food bank, particularly by international students, has been fueled by a misunderstanding of how Canadian food banks operate, compounded by misleading information circulating on social media. Glen Pearson, co-executive director of the London Food Bank, reported a 43% increase in visits at the beginning of the school year, with a noticeable rise in requests from post-secondary students, many of whom were international students from Fanshawe College.

According to Pearson, the surge in demand was exacerbated by social media posts, including a YouTube video in Malayalam, a language spoken in southern India. The video suggested that Canadian food banks could provide a regular supply of free food, contrary to their intended purpose as emergency resources. Pearson expressed concern about the sudden increase, stating, “It caused some concern as to whether or not we would have enough supply.”

This situation is not unique to London. A food bank in Brampton had to close its doors to international students due to overwhelming demand that the food bank couldn’t meet. The London Food Bank’s experience prompted a response from Fanshawe College administration, leading to an email sent to all students to clarify the proper role of food banks. Once informed, students were apologetic for the misunderstanding.

John Riddell of the Fanshawe Student Union acknowledged the need to counter misinformation circulating among students. He clarified that while there might be a misunderstanding about the purpose of food bank resources, there is a significant number of students in legitimate need of support. Fanshawe College operates a food bank for students called The Sharing Shop, providing grocery gift cards to students in need a few times a year. Referrals can be obtained from campus learning advisers.

Similarly, Western’s University Students’ Council (USC) manages a food bank that offers food hampers to students demonstrating need through an online request form. Bianca Gouveia, vice-president of student services at USC, highlighted the high demand for their services, with nearly 600 hamper requests this year. The USC transitioned from in-person visits to an online request form in September to better handle the increasing number of requests.

Gouveia acknowledged the financial challenges faced by students, stating, “Students are feeling pressure on all fronts for the cost of living.” The surge in food bank usage among students reflects the broader struggles many Canadians, including students, face due to rising costs of essentials such as housing and food.

A combination of rising living costs and misinformation, particularly on social media, has led to a significant increase in international students seeking assistance from food banks in London and other parts of Canada. Efforts by college administrations and student unions to clarify the purpose of food banks have been essential in addressing the issue. While dispelling misinformation, it remains crucial to recognize and address the legitimate needs of students facing financial challenges in Canada.

Indian Parliament Passes Landmark Data Protection Bill

The Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian Parliament) on Wednesday, August 9th  passed the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill (DPDPB), 2023 by voice vote. The Bill will now become law after President Draupadi Murmu grants her assent.

From hefty penalties ranging from a minimum of ₹50 crore to a maximum of ₹250 crore on social media platforms for violating rules to enabling digital markets to grow more responsibly while safeguarding citizens’ data, the Data Protection Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament) on August 7.

In the Upper House, the Bill was presented for passage by Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Ashwini Vaishnaw.

Industry leaders on Wednesday hailed the passing of the Digital Protection Data Protection (DPDP) Bill 2023 by the Parliament, saying India is rapidly digitising and hence the bill stands as a crucial and long-awaited piece of legislation which upholds an individual’s right to safeguard their digital privacy.

Minister of State for Electronics and IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, tweeted that he feels deeply privileged at being given an opportunity by Prime Minister Narendra Modi “to help achieve this important step to protect our citizens rights and support innovation economy and governance”.

“My engagement on the issue of privacy started in 2010 and led to me filing a case in the Supreme Court as a petitioner that fought and succeeded in order that Privacy is a fundamental right,” he said.

“More than a decade on, India and Indians under PM Modi have a global standard Digital Personal Data Protection law,” the minister posted.

Union Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw moved the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023 for consideration and passing in the Rajya Sabha after the Lok Sabha had already passed it.

Ruchir Shukla, MD, Safehouse Tech said that the bill is set to establish an international benchmark for data protection frameworks. “While online safety for institutions have been prioritised thus far, this bill will ensure safeguarding individuals in the digital world too,” Shukla said.

The Data Protection Bill will assess penalties based on the nature and severity of the breach, with potential fines of up to ₹250 crore for instances of data breaches, failure to protect personal data, or failure to inform the Board and users of a breach.

The Bill will apply to the processing of digital personal data within India where such data is collected online, or collected offline and is digitised. It will also apply to such processing outside the country, if it is for offering goods or services in India.

Personal data may be processed only for a lawful purpose upon consent of an individual. Consent may not be required for specified legitimate uses such as voluntary sharing of data by the individual or processing by the state for permits, licences, benefits, and services.

Data fiduciaries will be obligated to maintain the accuracy of data, keep data secure, and delete data once its purpose has been met.

The Bill grants certain rights to individuals, including the right to obtain information, seek correction and erasure, and grievance redressal.

The Centre may exempt government agencies from the application of provisions of the Bill in the interest of specified grounds such as security of the state, public order, and prevention of offences.

According to Manish Sehgal, Partner, Risk Advisory, Deloitte India, the Bill will enhance the privacy cognisance of Indian citizens by empowering them with their privacy rights through transformative accountability measures to be adopted by the enterprises. The Bill brings in the much-needed legal framework to foster trust in digital markets. On one hand, it protects the privacy of Indian digital citizens and on the other, it enables digital markets to grow more responsibly.

In the event of a data breach, companies are mandated to promptly inform the Data Protection Board (DPB) and the affected users. Processing data of minors and individuals with guardians must be done only with the consent of guardians, according to the Bill.