The Times of India has carried a report in its Ahmedabad edition on October 27, 2012, on the number and quality of followers that Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi has on Twitter. The story is titled “Bitter Twitter truth for Narendra Modi”
The hostility of the Times of India towards Modi is not new. The SIT, constituted by the Supreme Court to look into the Gujarat 2002 violence, has indicted Manoj Mitta working for this newspaper for being in active connivance with the cottage industry out to besmirch Modi through crooked ways. Manoj Mitta, while working for the Times of India as a journalist, was also helping Sanjiv Bhatt draft his many false affidavits that he submitted in the Supreme Court. Just recently, when the Modi Government announced a ban on tobacco products in Gujarat, the Times of India ran multiple page articles with detailed pictorial instructions as to how to circumvent the ban. Between the health hazards of tobacco products and supporting Modi for just one cause, they chose tobacco!
Yet, the story that the Times of India has published on Modi’s Twitter followers is particularly vicious. The story is ostensibly about the quality of Twitter followers that Modi has and yet the story is not just that. Innuendos are thrown into the story that fake followers are bought by celebrities and politicians through some marketing agencies and that Modi might have done the same. No other celebrity and his or her followers have been analysed in the story to even give a semblance of perspective and balance. It is all about Modi so that the innuendos stick on to him alone. A nondescript website ( Status People ) is used as the only source to base the story on. Whether the website has any credibility, is it peer reviewed as a genuine website or some crack job – nothing is mentioned. As long as anything that comes handy to discredit Modi, it’s fine with the Times of India!
Below is an analysis of 10 accounts using the same website (thus fairness) for some celebrity and non-celebrity handles:
From the above chart, a few things are clearly discernible :
» Every account that is a celebrity has the same ratio of fakes, inactive and active accounts. Everyone. Be they politicians ( like Shashi Tharoor) or movie stars (like Shah Rukh Khan). The Twitter handle of the office of PM of India (S.No. 04) has the least percentage of “Good” followers as per this website. Even Barack Obama, President of USA, has about 70% non-good followers.
» Non celebrity accounts ( like mine and I have included one more – @MrsGandhi – just to confirm ) are the ones with negligible fake followers, but even they have some some!
» Times of India’s own Twitter account (S.No. 08) has as much fake followers as other celebrities. In fact in this aspect, Hindustan Times (S.No. 09) , the closest competitor of TOI, fares better with lesser fake followers. Should we junk TOI and go for HT then?
There are two other aspects to this story in addition to the vicious nature of the TOI attack.
First, the CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, has debunked the idea of fake followers on Twitter. In an interview published on October 12 2012, Costolo said that the biggest misconception people have about Twitter is that participating on Twitter means one must tweet. On the contrary, 40 per cent of the people on Twitter don’t tweet at all. They are there just to follow others, get access to their favorite celebrities, or keep on top of the news. But they do not tweet. The classifying of fake followers by websites like Status People, merely on the presumption that they follow many people but don’t tweet, is therefore clearly suspect. What is even more incredulous is that a newspaper like the Times of India should base a report on such suspect website.
Second, when mainstream media resorts to such disingenuous practices, it becomes a participant in the political process and not a just a neutral reporter and observer of facts. It is then that it invites charges like the one facing media across platforms — is there really any difference between some media practices and the oldest profession in the world?