Conflict & Justice

Trump's Twitter storms have a parallel in India

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Like US President Donald Trump, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi's preferred means of communication is Twitter

Credit:

Thomas White 

Social media is shaping politics across the world, and perhaps nowhere more so than in India. And, as in the US, the head of government's Twitter has become a key factor in political debates.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

According to journalist Swati Chaturvedi, author of "I Am A Troll," India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi also uses Twitter as his preferred means of communication.

"He tweets as much as Trump — he's obsessed with it. It's replaced mainstream media," she says. "Just as we wake up to Trump tweetstorms, [we do the same with] Narendra Modi. In some ways, Narendra Modi is the father of what Trump is now doing."

Chaturvedi has investigated how the BJP, Modi's political party, has made control of social media debate a priority. According to her research, the party uses large teams of volunteers and activists to amplify the prime minister's message on Twitter and other platforms. Chaturvedi says she is particularly disturbed by the way pro-government Twitter accounts resort to threats and trolling of those who criticize the government. 

"Their job is to go out there, spew abuse, death threats, put out fake videos. They institutionalized it — it's business as usual," she says. "The minute Narendra Modi's name is mentioned, the nerve center in the party headquarters lights ups. Then it's like a swarm of ants to drown out that particular voice. And they don't hold back: There's a rash of death threats. Rape threats. You name it, they do it."

Chaturvedi says her work investigating online pro-government trolls has made her a target.

"I'm all for free speech — I'm a journalist, so free speech is my bread and butter. But hate speech is not freedom of expression; death threats are not freedom of expression, neither are rape threats. [...] I have received a huge number of threats, so it's not a safe situation to be in. For a woman liberal journalist in India, a good day is when you get only 100 rape threats."

To hear more of Swati Chaturvedi's interview with The World, click the "play" button above.