The summons issued by a parliamentary committee to Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Twitter, has stirred social media circles. Dorsey has been asked to appear before the standing committee on information technology on February 25 to reassure the parliamentarians that Twitter will guard itself against misuse in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
Parliamentary circles are also surprised about the excess interest shown by the committee at the fag end of the Lok Sabha. Even though the current Lok Sabha will exist till the president dissolves it in May, for swearing in a new government based on the election results, there are no more sittings scheduled after the budget session.
Thus, committee chairman Anurag Thakur and members, who want to rein in the social media platforms, will not be able to present a report to the two houses. In fact, most general and subject committees wind up their work during the last session for two reasons—while the Lok Sabha does not meet before its expiry, most members will be busy with elections.
But, this time, committees are showing interest beyond the call of duty. While Thakur thinks he can enforce discipline on social media platforms, public accounts committee chairman Mallikarjun Kharge wants meetings to be convened to discuss the CAG report on the Rafale deal. But, he can get outvoted as the opposition does not have a majority in the most vital committee of Parliament. The subject committee on finance is also very active.
The last session also saw demands for a joint parliamentary committee on the Rafale controversy, even though the committee, even if conceded by a reluctant Narendra Modi, would have just a few weeks of life. There is still lot of activity in the subject committees, even though Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu have put curbs on excessive and wasteful travels.
But, the main debate is on how much effect the committee’s exertions and recommendations would have on social media behaviour. The opposition led by the Congress had accused the BJP of using fake news and doctored visuals on social media to attack them. Twitter and blogs have effectively been used by the IT cell of the ruling party.
But, the Congress learnt the ropes eventually, and Rahul Gandhi has become more savvy. He brought in smart youngsters to take the battle to the Modi camp. The Congress’s hunger to get one up on the BJP was realised by the party’s IT cell, headed by former actor Divya Spandana. She gave it back with more sarcasm and directness, hurting the BJP where it mattered most. The BJP lost the first mover advantage, as regional parties and politicians, too, became more savvy on social media.
Facebook and Twitter have already been under government scanner. The challenge for the standing committee is to compel the presence of Dorsey and extract implementable assurances. The committee would go into parliamentary oblivion in May, with the next committee having the right to decide on continuing its predecessor’s agenda. Otherwise, it could turn out to be mere grandstanding.