Memos from Asia

Toxic Twitter Trends Polarizing India’s Political Discourse

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Government building at the roadside, Sansad Bhavan, New Delhi, India

Twitter is frankly not that popular in India. Only 17 million Indians are active in twitter compared to India’s total internet population of 600 million people. But Indian twitter has uncanny ability to drive the nation’s agenda and has become an identitarian group battleground. As a country that consists of 18 percent of world population, with ethical, cultural, and religious diversity matching that of the African continent, political discontent and identity movement aren’t hard to start.

When it all started

Indian PM condemning violent CAA protest

The present level of toxicity started with the passage of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 by the Indian ruling party which provided a shortcut to Indian citizenship for all persecuted non-muslim minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. This whole scenario resulted in a pitched battle between supporters of the right-wing ruling party and divided opposition consisting of Muslim groups, left-leaning student bodies, and other activists. Hashtags like #HindusAgainstCAA, #IsupportDelhiPolice, #IndiaDoesNotSupportCAA, #IndiaSupportsCAA, #JamiaProtests etc started trending in lakhs. Multiple protests against the act started and continued for 3 months.

Even Indian PM raised the pitch with many other Indian celebrities supporting the amendment.

The binary battle between the right-leaning and left-leaning group intensified when Trump came to India, which ultimately resulted in the Delhi riots where many people died.

Almost 50 people died and many went missing but the politicians still continued to tweet divisive rhetoric and gaining thousands of retweets.

All this intensified further when many TikTok videos of mainly Muslim denying coronavirus started coming up and also Muslim conservative group Tablighi Jamaat was blamed for resisting corona precautionary measures. This led to twitter trends like #CoronaJihad, #jahiljamati (Jahil meaning uncultured) blaming Muslims for spreading coronavirus in India which even started having a negative impact on India’s foreign policy when many journalists and activist from MiddleEast got involved. #Islamophobia_In_India started trending worldwide and forced Even Indian PM had to tweet condemning linking Corona with religion.

Indian PM condemning linking corona and Religion

This was not the end. Twitter trends in India again went ballistic when India china border standoff resulted in a Twitter match between Indian right-wing twitter users, Chinese media state representative, and Pakistani proxies of China. #BoycottChina, #BharatvsChina (Bharat is a synonym of India), and the likes started trending and a number of celebrities and opinion-makers got involved in that.

Every topic turns political

Every high profile crime turns into a match of accusation, conspiracy theory, and victimization. For example, 2 Hindu saints were lynched in a village town in India. It turned into twitter trends like #Palghar with vitriol against community and religion started spreading like wildfire.

Even the suicide of a big Bollywood celebrity turned into a match of fist fighting. The twitter trolls started blaming and shaming all established Bollywood celebrities forcing many celebrities to hide their comments and profile from the public. #warrior4SSR started trending. Even comedians are not immune to this. Many comedians and actors have been canceled from the mainstream or being arrested because of twitter blaming them for blasphemous content.

Tops trends every month

A large proportion of twitter trends in Indian stems from organized groups of trolls, activists, and people associated with one political party or another. Twitter in India has turned into a place of the battle of narrative and political parties are fighting hard to achieve online relevance. Each political party in India has an organized online cell dedicated to establishing digital dominance. Not just that, individual belonging to various interest group supports twitter bullying tactics to silence free speech. Many brands have faced mass boycott over their choice of brand ambassadors, campaign, and causes which one group finds reprehensive. This is even truer at the time of COVID when political parties are forced to go 100 percent digital. All the street vitriols, campaigns, and propaganda have shifted to digital space, which has further turned online spaces venomous. It seems like, in times of such uncertainty, twitter politics and propaganda will only inflame division and hate in the society, turning people against each other for special interest extreme political position of some interest group.

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