After nearly two weeks since Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde’s Twitter account got suspended for the first time, Mr Hegde was told by the microblogging website that his account will not be restored.
Hegde’s account was first suspended on Saturday, 26 October over his profile cover picture of a German national, August Landmesser, refusing to enact the Nazi salute before Hitler.
The account was restored soon, only to be suspended again the next day, 27 October over a 2017 tweet where Hegde had quote-tweeted Kavita Krishnan, whose post shared a poem by Gorakh Pandey, ‘Usko Phaansi Do’ along with its English translation.
In an interview with Newsd, Mr Hegde walk us through the details of his Twitter suspension and shares the measures he is planning to take against the social media giant.
If you can just walk us through how your Twitter account got suspended?
My account was suspended because of my cover picture. The cover picture was of August Landmesser at a Nazi rally where Hitler was present. Landmesser refused to the Nazi salute when everybody around him was doing it.
Next day I was asked to delete a quote-tweet of Kavita Krishnan tweet containing a poem by a poet called Gorakh Pandey which dealt with the hanging of peasants.
Appallingly @Twitter @TwitterIndia has displayed its cussed idiocy & bias by blocking @sanjayuvacha AGAIN! This time for quoting my tweet from 2017 which had Gorakh Pandey’s poem against the first execution by hanging in independent India – of 2 peasant revolutionaries. pic.twitter.com/dUKb31Ur6r
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) October 28, 2019
Last night I received an email, saying that my account will not be restored. They said that they are not making reference to the poem but to the cover picture.
I am left with no option but to figure out what legal redress I have, both here in India as well as abroad. If my free speech is sought to be interfered with by a commercial corporation, what is the duty of the government of India in this regard as well as even abroad, if they have one policy for India another policy abroad. There is no way that picture of August Landmesser can be seen as justifying Nazism.
Do you think there is any sort of bias in the way Twitter works?
There appears to be a pattern, the way that several anti-government accounts have been suspended. There seems to be a pattern but we cannot confirm for sure on the basis of the information available. Either their policies are being used, triggered off by organised IT cells and troll factories which constantly complain about one kind of accounts so their AI bots are triggered. Now, the appeal was probably read by a human and the human has confirmed what the bots have done. That seems particularly galling.
The Right-wing Twitter population say there is bias against them on Twitter, your take?
The recent events do not prove if you say so; extreme hateful speech is tolerated on the right side, while the final solution of permanently suspending accounts is applied to the left.
In another interview, you mentioned that AI finds it difficult to filter the abusive content present in regional languages. Do you think right-wing is playing that to their advantage?
Ofcourse, the platform is being gamed obviously. But there is a difference between gaming it and organising online mobs which set out to lynch free speech.
During this whole episode, do you feel there is lack of transparency from Twitter?
Except one lady from Twitter India who called me and tried to tell me that this photograph is the problem, no one else reached out to me. I asked her to give it to me in writing.
What are the legal actions you are planning to take?
There are a lot of legal actions possible, we are trying to evaluate which is the best course to go. I could have a case both in defamation and damages. I could also have a case on free speech. There could be larger questions outside India as well. We, lawyers, have a saying, “he who fights his own case, has a fool for a client”. I have decided to let other lawyers look at it and take the call. Some of the top lawyers in the Supreme Court have volunteered to help me out.
Are you planning to create another Twitter account in the meantime?
I am not creating another account, the fight is for this and there is a lot of content accumulated over the last 9 years. I will be taking steps to protect that content and at the end of the day I will probably use some other platform and I will see to it that Twitter doesn’t benefit from my content. I will see it is made to apologize and pay for this aggravation. They picked a wrong person for this.
Any advice to your followers so that their accounts don’t get suspended?
Lastly, I would say that freedom of speech is not freedom for popular speech, it is for unpopular speech as well and is mostly required for unpopular speech and when commercial corporations provide seemingly neutral platforms have control over freedom of speech and freedom of reach, then they are performing a public function and must, therefore, be held accountable by the local laws and the courts of the countries they are operating.