Tick, one thought, is the name of blood-sucking parasites that afflict mostly our canine and bovine friends. The recent controversy has ensured that whenever the word is uttered in future, what people will recall is the blue sign granting special status to a person tweeting on the social media platform called Twitter. No point insisting that tweeting is what sweet little birds indulge in trying to woo a mate or welcoming the pleasant season. This is not all. The colour of this badge of honour or distinction, call it what you may, is blue and that confuses us even more. From adolescence on, we have always associated the adjective with smutty films though more literate friends have tried to educate us about ‘Blues’ in music and in Picasso’s paintings.
Our government certainly is not interested in such non-vital, non-urgent distractions. The honourable minister of law literally sees red when he notices a critic of the government or his party flaunting this ‘medal’ to attract more followers and to reinforce credibility of his/her ‘anti-national’ rantings. He is equally furious when someone in the BJP-NDA ‘loses’ the blue tick suggesting that the person is being ticked off (pardon the pun) for spreading fake news or ‘media manipulation’.
Deflated and diminished by its mishandling of the Corona pandemic crisis and inability to deliver on its reckless electoral promises, the Central government now seems to exploit this ‘storm in the tea cup’ to regain lost ground. This explains the puffed-up chest, flexing of muscles and the bullying tone: How dare a foreign company, working for profit, lecture to the largest democracy in the world about fundamental rights—freedom of expression and equality before law? We are a sovereign entity and shall not brook any challenge from a corporate giant. Twitter or Facebook, Google or Amazon must abide by the laws of the land or face dire consequences.
On the face of it, unexceptional logic. Unfortunately, the harsh and hard reality of the last couple of years has eroded the credibility of these (and many other) claims. None can deny that space for peaceful and democratic dissent has shrunk rapidly, and persecution of opponents by abuse of laws pertaining to sedition and ambiguously defined unlawful activities along with heightened national security concerns has brutally silenced not only critics of the government but also all who dare to speak out against peddlers of superstition and specialists in hate speech.
The judiciary, alas, has not always come to rescue the innocent citizen helpless from the sledgehammer swung blindly by the executive. The judgements and order on bail have been confusing and tend to suggest that there are different standards of proof applied in different cases. As far as the government is concerned it is clear that the judiciary should not overreach and not trespass into the government’s exclusive domain of policy-making and implementation.
One may very well ask, what has the heated debate on ‘Ticks and Twitter’ to do with this? There is a one-word answer—everything. With the Parliament in an induced coma, where else can dissent be voiced? The media hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory either. The partisan tilt of some owners and editors is transparent. It is only the social media platforms that provide some space—in case of Twitter 280-odd characters to vent one’s grievances, petition authorities for help, make desperate appeals for help from compassionate individuals or NGOs. Nor can it be denied that succour has been provided in response to tweets. ‘Twitterati’ hasn’t spared anyone; in some cases the judiciary’s wrath has been aroused for it to take suo motu cognisance of contempt of court.
Ironically, before the fight over blue ticks erupted, our government was very happy communicating with the citizens via tweets. The PM, who is known to be not very fond of press conferences, tweeted regularly as did his ministerial colleagues. Twitter provided, or so it appeared, a channel for two-way communication. Between the rulers and the ruled. There was a time when the supporters of the PM boasted about his millions of followers at times more than those who followed the POTUS. What happened to sour the relationship?
We must now return to the wretched bloodsucking tick. Eagle-eyed observers were quick to note when Sambit Patra was ticked off for media manipulation. Even more shocking was the (temporary) loss of the blue tick mark against the VP’s personal handle. Twitter, to our mind, has been far more even-handed than Facebook in blocking abusers but this time it seems to have treaded on ultra-sensitive toes with painful corns.
The law minister has, indeed, raised serious and valid concerns about our sovereignty. But for people to rally behind him in this battle against Tech Giants, he must first answer some uncomfortable questions.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University