As social media platforms including Facebook mint money from political advertising related to elections, Twitter is sticking to its 2019 policy barring political advertising related to polls. Payal Kamath, Twitter India's Public Policy Manager, lists the steps taken by the micro-blogging site to earn the trust of its users and foster a seamless flow of credible information.
How is Twitter going to ensure transparency and fair game in upcoming Assembly elections?
Earning and maintaining the trust of the people in our service is of utmost importance. We are committed to providing a service that fosters free and open civic discourse. We recognise our role as that of an essential service where people come for credible information about where, when and how to vote, to learn about candidates and their platforms, and to engage in healthy civic debate and conversation.
Drawing on insights and lessons from previous elections, both globally and in India, we are implementing the significant product, policy, and enforcement updates to protect and support the multilingual conversation taking place during the course of the upcoming Assembly elections.
A global cross-functional team with local, cultural and language expertise is in place and has been tasked with keeping the service safe from attempts to incite violence, abuse and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm.
At Twitter, we believe increasing transparency about our processes is foundational to promoting healthy public conversation. We use a combination of machine learning and human review to determine whether content violates Twitter rules.
We take a behaviour-first approach, meaning we look at how accounts behave before we review the content they are posting. Twitter’s open nature means our enforcement actions are plainly visible to the public, even when we cannot reveal the private details of individual accounts that have violated our rules, and have worked to build better in-app notices in cases where we have removed tweets for breaking our rules.
Our enforcement is judicious and impartial for everyone, regardless of their political beliefs and background. We’ll continue to take action on content that violates the Twitter rules, and will remain transparent with the public in our efforts.
Fake bots have been used widely for propaganda including in elections. We know that Twitter has been taking proactive steps to stop the automated accounts. Have you succeeded?
People often refer to bots when describing everything from automated account activity to individuals who would prefer to be anonymous for personal or safety reasons, or avoid a photo because they’ve got strong privacy concerns.
To put things in context, a bot is an automated account — nothing more or less. At Twitter, our proactive work is focused on manipulation in many forms and that includes the malicious use of automation. Maintaining the integrity of our service is a top priority as we continue to strengthen Twitter against attempted manipulation, including malicious automated accounts and spam, as well as other activities that violate our Terms of Service.
Using technology and human review in concert, we proactively tackle attempts to violate these policies by actioning millions of accounts each week. We remain vigilant about identifying and eliminating suspected information campaigns targeting election conversations. In the weeks leading up to and throughout the elections, we conduct proactive enforcement sweeps against inauthentic and networked activity associated with the elections. We provide an update on our enforcement work across policies in our biannual Twitter Transparency Report.
Do you think hashtags are being used as a propaganda tool in India?
Hashtags have helped to galvanise some of the most important conversations for communities globally and in India. We want Trends to promote healthy conversations on Twitter. During the weeks leading up to the election, we take extra steps to ensure people have the context to what’s trending for them and will include a representative Tweet, Twitter Moment or description for the top Trends. As explained in our Help Center, there are rules for Trends and this means that, at times, we may not allow or may temporarily prevent certain terms that violate Twitter rules from appearing in the Trends section.
What's Twitter's take on Political advertising?
Twitter banned political ads in 2019 and we remain the only platform to date to implement a ban on political advertising. We believe that political message reach should be earned, not bought. This meant bringing ads from political candidates and political parties to an end. We define political content as content that references a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome.
Ads that contain references to political content, including appeals for votes, solicitations of financial support, and advocacy for or against any of the above-listed types of political content, are prohibited under this policy. We also do not allow ads of any type by candidates, political parties, or elected or appointed government officials. We are taking proactive measures to prevent prohibited political advertising through comprehensive and nuanced enforcement mechanisms by identifying and blocking ads from referenced candidates, parties, and other election-related content.
Do you think regional languages like Malayalam are hashtag friendly?
Twitter allows for conversations in over 10 Indic languages, including South Indian languages Tamil, Telugu, Kannada as well as Malayalam. We see people follow hashtags, content and Tweet in the language of their choice on the service every day. In the past, we’ve released several emojis supported by Malayalam hashtags. Over the years, we’ve also introduced emojis for national occasions like #RepublicDay and #Diwali, supported by Malayalam hashtags. This year’s Republic Day emoji could also be activated via the Malayalam hashtag - #റിപ്പബ്ലിക്ദിനം.
For the #AssemblyElections2021, we have launched a multilingual information search prompt with the Election Commission of India (@ECISVEEP) and State Election Commissions to provide reliable information around the elections. We will also be launching a series of pre-bunks and de-bunks to tackle election-related misinformation and a youth discussion series titled #DemocracyAdda aimed at voter literacy and civic participation among young Indians. These initiatives will be activated across six languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Assamese and Malayalam
How are you going to fight misinformation issues in this assembly election? Do you have a dedicated team for Kerala?
In line with our Civic integrity policy, we will action by taking down content containing false or misleading information about (1) process and procedures, (2) false information intended to intimidate or dissuade people from participating in the elections and voting, or (3) accounts that misrepresent their affiliation with a political candidate or party.
We have also prioritized our approach to tackling misinformation based on the highest potential for harm in the context of the elections, which is why in addition to Civic integrity we focus on Synthetic and manipulated media.
For content to be labelled or removed under synthetic and manipulated media, we must have reason to believe that media, or the context in which media are presented, are significantly and deceptively altered or manipulated. We will label Synthetic and manipulated media and link it to a Twitter Moment to give people additional context and surface-related conversations so they can make more informed decisions on the content they want to engage with or amplify. When people attempt to Retweet Tweets with a synthetic and manipulated media label, they will see a prompt pointing them to credible information. These Tweets won’t be algorithmically recommended by Twitter further reducing the visibility of misleading information, and will encourage people to reconsider if they want to amplify these Tweets.
How do you see Kerala as a market for Twitter? How large is the Twitter audience in Kerala compared to the overall Twitter India users?
South India has rocketed up the charts when it comes to online conversations, with millions of people turning to Twitter to find out what’s happening in the world of Malayalam cinema, festivals, political and sports moments. Twitter allows conversations in over 10 Indian languages, including South Indian languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada as well as Malayalam. While we do not disclose country or state-specific user data, we are seeing a range of conversations from South Indian audiences daily, including from Kerala. For instance, we’ve seen noteworthy interest in entertainment conversations, with fans actively engaging with their favourites such as Mohanlal (@Mohanlal) and Mammooty (@mammukka). In fact, Mohanlal (@Mohanlal) was one of the 10 most mentioned male South Indian actors on Twitter in 2020.
We also see significant engagement around political, sports and cultural moments from Keralan audiences – #Vishu received great momentum on the service. The Government in Kerala, using its official Twitter account @CMOKerala, leveraged the power of Twitter effectively for disaster relief work during the Kerala Floods. Last year during the COVID-19 lockdown, the chief minister of Kerala participated in #AskTheCM series, a concerted effort to bring citizens and the government together to facilitate active and real-time dialogue. The promptness of response motivated more and more people who were stranded due to lockdown to seek help through Twitter.