Influential US daily "The New York Times" (NYT) has taken strong exception to Prime Minister Narendra Modi following abusive trolls, wondering, "What are the ethics in choosing whom to follow on Twitter? Do influential people — say, a head of state — have a higher responsibility not to follow people who post offensive tweets?"
Pointing towards the debate raging in India on this around Modi, whom NYT calls "a hugely popular but divisive figure", the top daily says how it reached a peak "following the Twitter feed of a man who wrote, after a female journalist (Gauri Lankesh) was shot to death: 'One bitch dies a dog’s death all the puppies cry in the same tune'.”
The NYT says, "Many Indians were bothered by that message, then doubly disturbed to learn that the writer, Nikhil Dadhich, a prolific tweeter who describes himself as a 'Hindu nationalist', was among the 1,779 accounts their prime minister was following." By contrast, US president Donald Trump follows just 45 accounts, it adds.
Commenting on this, NYT quotes a medical student Sai Krishna to say, “The prime minister shouldn’t be doing that. He’s giving legitimacy to filth.”
Calling Lankesh "a provocative intellectual who criticized many politicians and religious leaders", the daily says, "The way she was killed — gunned down outside her house by a mysterious assailant — was eerily similar to how several other critics of the Hindu nationalist agenda of the Modi government have been silenced."
The daily notes that while the "offending tweet was soon taken down, and so was a boast by Dadhich that he was followed by the prime minister, Modi continues to follow him", adding, it is all right for Modi to follow on Twitter "Indian state ministers, star athletes, world leaders and the Cricket Association for the Blind, among others", but "whom you follow on Twitter is considered an indicator of your tastes."
Pointing out that Modi's political party, BJP, has been "frequently accused of operating what detractors call a troll army — a group of bloggers who quickly swarm online anyone seen as critical of the party", NYT says, "Modi is following some of these people and in doing so is acting "like a passive troll” (the medical student's words).
NYT underlines, "Some of the accounts Modi follows on Twitter have made misogynistic comments, spread anti-Muslim feelings and dangerous rumours, or made remarks that do not always jibe with his message of tolerance. One account he follows suggested dropping an atomic bomb on Pakistan. The same account called a prominent female journalist a prostitute."
In this context, it quotes Swati Chaturvedi, the author of “I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army", as saying ”What is the compelling need to follow these people? Most of them boast in their bio saying, ‘Blessed to be followed by PM Modi,’ which is essentially like a license and a liberty to say what they want to.”
The daily approvingly quotes Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, calling him "one of the most powerful politicians in the capital, New Delhi", as saying in a tweet that Modi was “a psychopath”.