Human Interest or Business Interest?—Twitter’s Double Standard in Response to the Capitol Riot versus India’s Farmer Protest

By: Eliza Collison

On January 6, 2021, pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, contesting the results of the election.[1] The rioters heeded former President Trump’s cries to march to the Capitol.[2] Rioters broke into the Capitol, and several, including a Capitol police officer, ended up dead.[3] Within two days of the riot, Twitter permanently suspended former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter account.[4]  

The farmers protests in India are a response to unfair agricultural reforms which would deregulate produce markets, putting the farmers’ livelihoods and land at risk.[5]  For several hours, “#shoot” was trending on Twitter, with supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government labeling the protestors as “terrorists.”[6]  The trending topic was not taken down for a few hours and not until Twitter received public outcry and a request for a statement.[7] 

This discrepancy in Twitter’s treatment of violent content sheds light on the role businesses play in monitoring speech and political content. The First Amendment of the United States prevents Congress from creating laws which hinder speech.[8] Therefore, private companies are not subject to First Amendment violations.[9] This leaves them free to act in their own moral or financial interests. India’s Constitution also has an Article on free speech, which includes “the right to express one’s views and opinions at any issue through . . . words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie etc. . . subject to reasonable restrictions.”[10]  Still, the Twitter terms of use are not limited to one nation, leaving this private company to enforce, or to not enforce, its hateful speech policy.

As a result of this self-enforcement, some critics note that there is potential for a double standard in which private companies, like Twitter, monitor accounts in the United States during the Capitol riot versus India during the farmers protests.[11]  Twitter swiftly banned Trump from its platform completely following the January 6 riot.[12]  Part of its statement read as follows:

In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action. Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open.[13]

Twitter’s hateful conduct policy also notes that “[t]hose deemed to be sharing violent threats will face immediate and permanent suspension of their account.”[14]  Previously, Twitter had flagged several of Trump’s tweets as potentially misleading or providing false information about the national election.[15]  Meanwhile, the term “shoot” was trending on Twitter in India for hours, encouraging police to shoot farmers protesting agricultural reform.[16] 

Critics of Twitter’s response argue that Twitter is acting in accordance with business interests, rather than with a sense of corporate responsibility, allowing for hateful and violent speech to remain on the platform until there is a public outcry.[17] Last year, Facebook officials did not take down several profiles of the Hindu ruling party in response to threats that their business interests would be affected in India.[18] Businesses have to balance financial interests and human rights concerns. Social media platforms, including Twitter, especially have to confront this paradox, as they can spread both a wealth of important information as well as hateful speech, often in live time. While the temporary solution is to call Twitter out, like those who led an outcry during the farmers protests, more formal accountability regulations are needed to hold Twitter accountable for its monitoring of content based on business interests, at the expense of human rights.


[1] Ted Barret, Manu Raj, & Peter Nickeas, US Capitol Secured, 4 Dead After Rioters Stormed the Halls of Congress to Block Biden’s Win, CNN (Updated Jan. 7, 3:33 AM ET), https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/06/politics/us-capitol-lockdown/index.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump, Twitter (Jan. 8, 2021), https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/suspension.html.

[5] Hannah Ellis-Petersen & Aakash Hassan, Violent Clashes as Indian Farmers Storm Delhi’s Red Fort, The Guardian (Jan. 26, 2021, 8:44 PM ET), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/26/violent-clashes-as-indian-farmers-storm-delhis-red-fort.

[6] Pranav Dixit, Violent Protests Erupted In India. Then Calls For Police To Shoot The Protesters Went Viral On Twitter, Buzzfeed News, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/pranavdixit/india-protests-viral-tweets-police-brutality (last updated Jan. 27, 2021).

[7] See id.

[8] U.S. Const. amend. I.

[9] Id.

[10] India Const. art. 19, § a.

[11] Dixit, supra note 6.

[12] Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump, supra note 4. 

[13] Id.

[14] Hateful Conduct Policy, Twitter, https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/hateful-conduct-policy (2021).

[15] Sam Dean, Twitter Flags Trump Election Tweets as Misleading, L.A. Times,

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-11-03/twitter-trump-2020-election-night-tweet-disclaimer (last updatedNov. 4, 2020, 10:29 AM PT).

[16] Dixit, supra note 6.

[17] Id.

[18] Newley Purnell & Jeff Horwitz, Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics, Wall St. J. (Aug. 14, 2020, 12:47 PM ET), https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-hate-speech-india-politics-muslim-hindu-modi-zuckerberg-11597423346.

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