Twitter gaffes pile up for Indian ministers

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal (right) shared a digitally altered video, while junior minister for finance and shipping Pon Radhakrishnan inadvertently criticised his own government in multiple tweets.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal (right) shared a digitally altered video, while junior minister for finance and shipping Pon Radhakrishnan inadvertently criticised his own government in multiple tweets.PHOTOS: AFP, FACEBOOK/PON RADHAKRISHNAN

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Two Indian ministers were left red-faced on Wednesday (Feb 13) after their attempts to glorify Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on Twitter backfired spectacularly.

Critics have accused Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of running a relentless propaganda campaign on social media to increase its base of supporters.

Media reports have suggested the party employs a "backroom army of trolls" to attack its rivals and run smear campaigns.

On Wednesday, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal shared a video purportedly showing India's first semi high-speed train zipping past at lightning speed, in order to trumpet Mr Modi's pet "Make in India" initiative.

But it turned out to be a digitally altered video with the speed of the train enhanced by two times, prompting a backlash from Twitter users.

"Massive respect for Piyush Goyal. He just made the video 2X times faster and called it semi-high speed train when he could have made it 6X times faster and called it super high speed train," wrote one user.

Mr Goyal has yet not commented on the video, which can still be seen on his timeline.

India's junior minister for finance and shipping, Mr Pon Radhakrishnan, also found himself at the receiving end after inadvertently criticising his own government in multiple tweets.

The minister retweeted posts with the hashtag #ModiforNewIndia without reviewing the content.

"#Modi4NewIndia Working for the middle class is low on the agenda of Modi govt," read one of his tweets.

"Modi govt started the process of online tracking of applications for environmental approvals, bringing down approval time from 600 days to 1,800 days," read another.

Hundreds of other accounts loyal to Mr Modi and the BJP retweeted Mr Radhakrishnan's posts verbatim. Some of the tweets have since been deleted.

Mr Pratik Sinha, co-founder of fact-checking website Alt-News, on Wednesday said he had edited a shared Google document that exposed how the BJP's social media army churned out propaganda on a daily basis and was picked by government loyalists.

"How do you get a union minister to tweet what you want? Well, you go and edit the trending document made by BJP IT cell, and then you control what they tweet," wrote Mr Sinha.

Indian cyber experts have warned of a bitter social media war between the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress party headed by Mr Rahul Gandhi ahead of a general election due by May.

India's right-wing groups recently accused Twitter of a "left-wing bias", saying the network was suspending accounts supportive of the BJP.

On Monday, a 31-member panel headed by a BJP lawmaker, summoned Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to appear before it on Feb 25.