Twitter Banned a Bollywood Star for Hate Speech. Now She's Turned to Instagram.

Kangana Ranaut, known for her provocative views, is the highest profile public figure to be banned from Twitter in India.
SJ
Mumbai, IN
May 4, 2021, 6:58pm
Twitter Banned a Bollywood Star for Hate Speech
Kangana Ranaut attending an event for the film Thalaivi on March 23, 2021 in Mumbai, India. Photo: Prodip Guha/Getty Images

Kangana Ranaut, an actress from India’s Bollywood film industry who had a massive online following of 3 million for her provocative right wing and Pro-Modi views, has been banned by Twitter for violating community hate speech guidelines. Now, she’s taken her dangerous speech to Instagram, where she has 7 million followers. 

In the past, Ranaut tweeted that international icons such as climate activist Greta Thunberg and the singer Rihanna were paid by India’s opposition party to speak up about the farmer’s protests in India. 

Digital rights experts believe that Ranaut’s ban could be a test for India’s recently released IT Rules that regulate social media.

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“According to the new IT rules, any social media platform with more than 5 million users has to give a deplatformed user the opportunity to appeal that de-platforming,” Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist and founder of digital media platform MediaNama told VICE World News. “Since Kangana’s suspension is the first instance of a significant political actor or such a major entity being deplatformed by Twitter, it is going to be a test of the rules if she appeals.” 

The Bollywood star was permanently suspended from Twitter after she tweeted her controversial reaction to rising violence in the aftermath of the assembly election results announced in the Indian state of West Bengal over the weekend.

After the All India Trinamool Congress, led by the state’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, beat Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the local assembly elections, there has been a wave of violence that has reportedly killed at least 11 people. 

Reacting to a tweet by journalist and BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta that blamed Banerjee’s party and supporters for the clashes, Ranaut asked PM Modi to show his “viraat roop” (a Hindu belief of a god’s all-powerful physical body) from the “early 2000s” to “tame” Banerjee. Many believe this was a violent call-to-action that referenced accusations of Modi’s role in the anti-Muslim riots that took place in the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. 

“We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm,” a Twitter spokesperson told VICE World News. “The referenced account has been permanently suspended for repeated violations of Twitter Rules, specifically our Hateful Conduct policy and Abusive Behaviour policy. We enforce the Twitter Rules judiciously and impartially for everyone on our service.” 

However, the ban seems to have little effect on Ranaut’s online views. “Twitter has only proved my point they are Americans and by birth, a white person feels entitled to enslave a brown person, they want to tell you what to think, speak or do,” she said in a statement to Reuters following her ban. “Fortunately I have many platforms I can use to raise my voice including my own art in the form of cinema but my heart goes out to the people of this nation who have been tortured, enslaved and censored for thousands of years and still there is no end to the suffering.” 

kanaga ranaut

Kangana Ranaut at a Mumbai police station where she was summoned in connection with a sedition case on January 8, 2021. Photo: Sujit Jaiswal/AFP

Ranaut has more than seven million followers on Instagram, and is now taking her opinions to Instagram Live, where she gets millions of views for each video. She also posted the tweets which got her banned from Twitter on Instagram. VICE World News reached out to Instagram to ask if they would suspend Ranaut on hate speech grounds too; they haven’t responded yet.

Activists point out that Twitter’s decision to deplatform a major celebrity could also result in Facebook taking a similar decision on its platforms, like it did when former U.S. President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter, or when Instagram banned right-wing YouTuber Hindustani Bhau

Some content moderation experts believe that Ranaut’s departure from Twitter could prompt an exodus to its right-wing alternatives in India, such as Tooter and Koo, which many liken to American right extremist’s platform Parler.

“Followers of any public figure may follow them to other public spaces, given that communities usually like to be within a media ecology which confirms their political place,” Apar Gupta, the executive director of net neutrality and internet advocacy organisation Internet Freedom Foundation told VICE World News. “However, at the same time, the scale of the number of users and user diversity on pre-existing platforms will lack the reach of Twitter.”

While the award-winning actor was respected as one of India’s most talented performers, Ranaut rose to online fame as a right-wing icon following the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput last year. This gave her a platform to speak out against nepotism in Bollywood on Twitter, which many saw as a way for her to quickly go viral since she was not close to Singh Rajput before his death.  

She was known for posting provocative content that regularly insulted or offended public personalities with liberal views. Through her Twitter presence, she has made snarky comments about the U.S. President Joe Biden’s victory, made casteist remarks about a police officer, and even tried to bully Gen Z LGBTQ and caste rights activist Priyanka Paul for sharing her suicidal thoughts. 

This isn’t the first time Twitter cracked down on Ranaut. Earlier this year, the social media platform imposed restrictions on Ranaut after she made inflammatory comments about the Amazon Prime series Tandav, which was accused of being “anti-Hindu.” She declared that it was “time to take (the makers') heads off” over the show. 

Her Twitter takedown comes soon after the social media platform was criticized for censoring tweets about India’s shortage of oxygen and life-saving Covid resources based on a government directive. 

Follow Shamani on Instagram and Twitter.