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Currency ban: Why a 3 lakh fall in Modi's followers spooked Twitter India

Aditya Menon | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:39 IST

Twitter India has responded to Catch's story on the reduction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's followers on 9 November.

Catch had reported on Thursday, that PM Modi's following on Twitter had decreased by 3.13 lakh on 9 November. This was a day after he announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes.

Within a few hours of publishing the story, a Twitter spokesperson responded by saying that "the follower drop is on account of spam clean up and has happened across a lot of accounts".

Though the spokesperson issued an official clarification on behalf of Twitter, he/she requested not to be named.

Based on this response, Catch asked the Twitter spokesperson the following questions:

  • Was this reduction a result of accounts unfollowing @narendramodi or due to the removal of fake accounts?

  • If indeed it was due to the removal of fake followers, why hasn't it affected accounts such as that of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi?

  • Why did this reduction in followers take place only on 9 November and not on any other day in the past two months? This has been shown in the graphs provided in the Catch story.

The Twitter spokesperson did not answer any of these questions.

Twitter's flip-flop

On Friday morning, Twitter changed its stance and denied that it was a spam clean up at all. The spokesperson told Catch, "(It) was a social graph error, not a spam clean-up."

After a sudden dip on 9 November, Twitter says it has 'restored' Modi's follower count ((Source: Twitter Counter))

The questions that this claim raises are:

  • Why did Twitter earlier claim that the reduction in followers was a result of a spam clean up?

  • Have the "other accounts", whom Twitter mentioned as having gone through a spam clean up, also been victims of this graph error?

  • Why has this "social graph error" affected only PM Modi's account? And why has this occoured only on 9 November?

  • How has Twitter "restored" the follower count? Does it mean it has reactivated accounts that were deleted?

  • If Catch's story is incorrect, why is Twitter issuing clarifications through anonymous spokespersons? Clarifications issued by annonymous people have little credibility.

  • If Twitter admits that it deleted spam accounts which led the the decrease in number of followers, does it mean that a large number of Modi's followers are fake?

  • Lastly, is Twitter facing pressure from the government?

One can understand Twitter's predicament.

  • The reduction of 3 lakh followers of Narendra Modi a day after announcement of the demonetisation policy, is embarrassing. Seen along with the chaos that is taking place in banks, ATMs and markets, it can be construed as negative feedback to the move. Modi has staked a great deal on his demonetisation policy. It is understandable if the negative feedback on the ground as well as online, has made the government uncomfortable.

  • Twitter's initial explanation - that it was a spam clean up - will raise questions that Modi's social media dominance is dependent on fake accounts, an allegation that has been made in the past as well.

  • The sudden restoration of followers by Twitter after Catch's story, can give rise to allegations that it is under pressure.

With inputs by Sahil Bhalla

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First published: 11 November 2016, 5:25 IST
Aditya Menon @AdityaMenon22

An incurable addiction to politics made Aditya try his luck as a political researcher as well as wannabe neta. Having failed at both, he settled for the only realistic option left: journalism. Before joining Catch as associate editor, he wrote and reported on politics and policy for the India Today group for five years. He can travel great distances for a good meal or a good chat, preferably both.