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Twitter evolution(Hindu editorial )

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently launched Twitter Samvad, a service that allows people to receive tweets by government leaders and agencies as text messages over mobile phones, it was a striking testimony of how quickly the social media has evolved to a position of being perceived as a communication channel for the officialdom. The San Francisco-based Twitter, which was not even around a decade back, made its name when it became an invaluable tool for those protesting against the regimes in Iran and Egypt to organise themselves. These protests, which took place at the dawn of the social media age, even came to be referred to as the “Twitter Revolutions”. This was not a deliberately cultivated tag. In fact, as the book Hatching Twitter states, the social media network’s co-founders wanted to steer clear of such a narrative. One of them is quoted as saying, in the backdrop of the protests in Iran, “We are not standing with, or against, the protesters. We just love this use of Twitter.” And this logic continues to hold true even today, when Twitter has about half a billion registered users.

In a slightly more evolved social media environment, where users have lots of choices, it does make business sense to tap sources with high user-volumes. Mr. Modi is someone who understands the power of the social media, having used it extensively in his successful election campaign of 2014. Also, in India SMS works better. This is because, while mobile phone usage has increased exponentially over the years, Internet access is still an issue. The flip side, however, is the uneasiness that usually marks relationships between governments and media of any kind. Governments are important for the media both as a source for stories and for business. In the case of the social media, there is an added dimension of censorship. Twitter knows it better than many other organisations, having had a love-hate relationship with governments across the globe. In extreme cases, as in China, Twitter is blocked from public access. In some other countries there are frequent requests for takedowns and user information. According to Twitter’s latest Transparency Report, the Indian government made 41 user information requests in the second half of 2014, compared to 16 in the first half. There might be little that is wrong when this pertains to security-related issues. But Internet companies are usually in a dilemma over how to treat such requests. At least one irritant relating to social media usage in India might have gone, quite coincidentally on the same day this service was announced, on March 24. That was also the day the Supreme Court struck down the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

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