For nearly two months, tweets by far-right Hindu nationalists in India doxing dozens of young interfaith couples — usually Muslim men marrying Hindu women — circulated on Twitter.
“This is going to be a long thread,” one of the accounts involved in the doxing said, following it up with 17 more tweets. Each tweet contained pictures of government documents including names, ages, occupations, addresses, and photographs of Hindu-Muslim couples in India. “Look at these pictures,” another tweet from the same account said. “Who instigates these couples to get together? It can’t be that they just ‘fall in love.’”
On Monday, as outrage mounted in India, Twitter finally took down some of the largest threads, even though people had been reporting them for weeks.
But more than half a dozen other tweets doxing interfaith couples remained after the first takedowns. One of them included a tweet from a politician from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, who tweeted the address of an Indian actor who allegedly converted to Islam. Twitter took down these posts after BuzzFeed News asked about them.
None of the accounts whose tweets were taken down were suspended.
A Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “Posting a person's private information without their consent is a direct violation of the Twitter Rules and one may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so.”
In India, one of Twitter’s fastest-growing markets, the controversial Special Marriage Act requires interfaith couples to announce their intent to get married to the government and wait 30 days for approval, during which the couple’s application is put up for public scrutiny at the marriage registration department. The law is currently being challenged in the Indian Supreme Court, with a petitioner calling it “unjust, illegal, and unconstitutional.”
But despite the controversies, last year, the state of Kerala went a step further: It uploaded all applications to its marriage registration website, where anyone could download them.
The move swept hundreds of interfaith marriage applications onto social media. Hindu nationalists claimed the applications were proof of “love jihad,” a baseless far-right conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of marrying Hindu women to lure them away from their faith, slowly turning India, a Hindu-majority country, into an Islamic nation. Those conspiracy theories have fueled violence at the same time that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tapped into Hindu nationalism to fuel his rise to power.
Although Facebook has been criticized for letting “love jihad”–related hate speech flourish on its platform in the past, the company did take down these particular instances of doxing whenever they were reported, two couples whose applications were posted to the platform told BuzzFeed News. But the documents, full of personal and identifying information, floated freely on Twitter for months.
Some of these tweets had thousands of retweets and likes and tagged prominent members of the Indian far right, including Kapil Mishra, a BJP politician whose speech at a February rally was uploaded to Facebook and is believed to have sparked religious violence that killed more than 50 people in the state of Delhi — most of them Muslims.
“Hindu bloodlines are being exterminated; mass conversations in progress,” read a tweet from July that had nearly 3,000 retweets.
“I will post each [application] I have,” read another tweet with nearly 500 retweets.
“72 couples in total. This is a [campaign] to obliterate Hindus,” another read, with the hashtag #Hindus_Under_Attack.
“We enforce our policies judiciously and impartially for everyone,” Twitter said. “Our product and policies are never developed or implemented on the basis of political ideology. If people on Twitter see something that violates the Twitter Rules, the most important thing they can do is report it, by clicking the drop down arrow at the top of the Tweet and selecting Report Tweet.”
Got a tip about Twitter or another tech company? Email this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us here.
Critics both inside and outside the technology companies headquartered in California allege that the platforms have failed to combat global harm. As a recently fired Facebook employee complained in an internal memo, “We focus upon harm and priority regions like the United States and Western Europe.”
“Love jihad is not a global campaign, but it’s high time for these Western companies to understand the real-world impact of something like this outside their geographies,” Athira Sujatha Radhakrishnan, a public policy professional in Bangalore, told BuzzFeed News.
Last year, Radhakrishnan, who is Hindu, and her husband, who is Muslim, were doxed. Their interfaith marriage application was one of the 150 applications that Hindu nationalists downloaded from the Kerala government’s website. Their application wasn’t posted to Twitter, but it still made its way through WhatsApp groups before reaching her mother through a neighbor, accompanied by a message to “stop love jihad.”
Radhakrishnan filed a police complaint and earlier this year wrote a Facebook post in which she tagged the minister in charge of marriage registrations. In July, the ministry walked back its decision to upload interfaith marriage applications to its website.
Radhakrishnan said she planned to file her own petition in the Supreme Court later this week focusing on the law's potential to violate privacy.
Despite the takedowns, mistrust of Twitter lingers.
“If this happened in America with interracial couples being doxed, there would be rapid action, I am sure of it,” one Twitter user wrote on Tuesday. “But who cares about a bunch of Indian people? It’s not like their dying will make the international press, I mean people die here in the droves every day, amirite?”