Mystery of PMO’s fading Twitter followers
On 20 May, four days after the Congress party and its ruling alliance conceded the mother of all mandates in three decades to the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party, the Twitter handle of the Prime Minister’s Office (@PMOIndia), vanished mysteriously.
It soon re-appeared, but minus its 1.2 million followers, and minus Manmohan Singh’s tired face in the slot for picture. Instead, it had zero followers, Twitter’s tiresome default egg as the picture. I’ll cut a long story short, as we now know what happened. The PMO, for reasons we’ll come to in a while, renamed the @PMOIndia account to @PMOIndiaArchive. The PMO team members intended to create a fresh @PMOIndia account – probably, after a little coffee break. Hey, what’s the hurry! But a young Twitter user called Qaiser Ali, who uses the handle @iamqaiserali, was faster on the draw. He tried registering @PMOIndia, found it free, and took it.
Ali describes it as a coincidence. ‘It just suddenly came into my mind,’ he told this columnist on Twitter. ‘I entered PMOIndia, and it said ‘available’, and I took it. I’m sorry I did it.’
In his Twitter bio, Ali describes himself as a 19-year-old, creating a location-based mobile e-commerce service for multiplexes and malls, who founded a social network at 18. Qaiser ‘owned’ @PMOIndia for about 30 minutes before it was taken back, following panic calls to Twitter India’s Raheel Khurshid.
But let’s go back to why the PMO did what was apparently done – delete the PMO Twitter account, leaving the next government a new account with zero followers. A scapegoat called Right to Information? The PMO’s media team gave its explanation in a series of verbose tweets that India’s Twitter users took very badly. ‘The @PMOIndia account has been vacated to facilitate handover to the new administration,’ it tweeted. ‘All official communications are being archived under the RTI (Right to Information) Act.’ The Twitter account, it added, was part of digital assets belonging to the PMO and access and control would be retained by the PMO.
No major harm has been done, except to the image of the PMO of the outgoing government.
Just in case you thought the outgoing government’s controversies were over and done with, we’ve got one for the road, probably its last one: Twittergate.