As the largest protests in history continue in India over farmers’ demands for agricultural-industry regulation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested that Twitter obscure hundreds of accounts that documented vicious police violence against protesters. Censorship of farmers, many of whom live below the poverty line, reveals the government’s insidious control over dismantling collective movements that organise for their basic human rights, and social media’s role in exacerbating it.
But why does Modi’s government go to such lengths? First of all, the government is targeting non-Hindu protesters as “anti-India” to justify the need to repress them. By scapegoating Sikh protesters as infiltrating this movement and censoring the brutal repression on the ground, the government can deny responsibility for the lives of people made poor. This ultimately invisibilises how the elite continue to legally hoard wealth.
[Image description: A farmer holds up his fist and holds a flag at a protest in Amritsar, India. Photo by Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty Images]
On the other hand, the government also uses Twitter as a weapon to spread Islamophobic rhetoric, culminating in the cancellation of some Muslim Indians’ citizenship. Rooted in the harmful beliefs that Muslim people are barbaric and “unholy”, these tropes are seen as truth not only through institutional denial of rights, but also in the Hindu nationalist violence that leads to Muslims being murdered.
Once again, social media companies who could use their massive influence to uplift the human rights demands of marginalised people with fewer resources, are instead complicit in concealing them.
How might this show up in our own workplaces? Apart from leaning towards certain “trending items” determining where we invest our time and energy, we are not always critical about why certain pieces of news are grasped onto over others. While social media can and does create a space for meaningful discourse, especially during a time when people cannot see each other, we must still question who determines what material is considered appropriate or urgent on these platforms, in order to bring to light the movements for justice they may be minimising.