Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal are among the political leaders in the country who suddenly find themselves a lot less popular on Twitter. The reason is the social media giant's crackdown on fake accounts in November, an effort that reportedly resulted in 2.4 million followers disappearing in total.
According to The Business Standard, an independent study on 925 Indian political handles on Twitter - including the user accounts of all the main political parties and political figures - led by the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi (IIIT-Delhi) found that Modi lost around 1 lakh followers (year-on-year) post the crackdown. While Kejriwal saw his followers falling by around 40,000, BJP President Amit Shah lost 16,500 followers and Gandhi lost close to 9,000.
Other political leaders that lost a significant number of followers include Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Affairs; Bhupender Yadav, National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Anurag Thakur, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology.
"It is too early to make comparisons with the 2014 analysis, but some of the initial trends are interesting. For instance, the sheer amount of presence [of political leaders on Twitter] this time is much higher. Of the 925 handles we are studying, over 500 are already verified. That was not the case in 2014," Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, a professor at IIT-Delhi and Hyderabad, told the daily.
Interestingly, the study found most prominent political leaders posting a consistent rise in their follower count between August and September. In November, after the crackdown, there was a dip in the follower count but the numbers are again on an uptick of late.
The study, which began last year, is a part of a larger attempt by the institute to study social media patterns between the 2014 and 2019 general elections. Significantly, it comes at a time Twitter is battling allegations of being politically biased in India. The members of Youth for Social Media Democracy, a right-wing group, recently protested outside its office alleging that Twitter has acquired an "anti-right-wing attitude" and has been blocking their accounts.
In its statement on Friday, Twitter asserted that the company "does not take any actions based upon political views or viewpoints", neither does it use political ideology to rank content on its service. "Abuse and hateful conduct comes from accounts across the ideological spectrum and Twitter will continue to take action when its rules are broken," it added. In a similar crackdown last July, Modi had lost three lakh Twitter followers in just 24 hours while Gandhi lost around 17,000.
Furthermore, Twitter pointed out that it is currently working with Indian political parties to verify candidates, elected officials, and relevant party officials whose accounts will be active in the public conversation. "To be clear, the parties themselves select the accounts for verification and then Twitter reviews these accounts to ensure they meet the company's verification standards," it said.