Indian government demands Twitter delete 1,200 accounts as senior executive quits site

The government has accused the handles for spreading misinformation and provocative content about the ongoing farmer's protest

<p>File Image: This photograph taken on October 26, 2020 shows the logo of US social network Twitter displayed on the screen of a smartphone and a tablet in Toulouse, southern France.</p>

File Image: This photograph taken on October 26, 2020 shows the logo of US social network Twitter displayed on the screen of a smartphone and a tablet in Toulouse, southern France.

The Indian government has told Twitter to remove 1,178 handles which it alleges are backed by its arch-rival Pakistan and sympathisers of a Sikh separatist movement, according to reports.

The government has accused these accounts of spreading misinformation and provocative content about the ongoing farmers’ protests. 

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping in the outskirts of India’s capital Delhi for the past two months, demanding the repeal of agricultural reforms that unions fear could leave them worse off. 

Twitter has been ordered to act by the government following similar directives relating to a hashtag accusing Narendra Modi of committing "genocide" against farmers, according to Reuters.

A spokesperson for the site told the news agency that if content violates the rules of their platform, those users could be removed. “If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in the location only,” the company said.

The social media platform has been in the middle of a political firestorm in the country after it refused to comply with a government directive to block more than 250 accounts and posts that it alleged were tweeting the "Modi genocide" hashtag over the ongoing farmers' agitation.

While Twitter had initially complied with the government's demand to suspend the 250 accounts, it restored most them after about six hours and a public outcry. The government then wrote a follow-up notice, implying that Twitter's employees could be breaking the law by refusing to obey the directive.

The microblogging website received a strongly worded letter from the government for "unilaterally" unblocking the accounts which it alleged were sharing "fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets". In a letter seen by Reuters, the technology ministry also warned the company of legal "consequences" that could include fines and jail.

The latest showdown coincided with the news that Twitter India's public policy director, Mahima Kaul, has resigned.

Citing unnamed sources, the Hindustan Times reported that Ms Kaul – the company's most senior lobbyist responsible for dealing with the Modi administration – quit the microblogging website in the first week of January, and would continue with the organisation until the end of March.

“At the start of this year, Mahima Kaul decided to step down from her role as Twitter Public Policy Director for India and South Asia to take a well-deserved break. It’s a loss for all of us at Twitter, but after more than five years in the role, we respect her desire to focus on the most important people and relationships in her personal life. Mahima will continue in her role till the end of March and will support the transition,” Twitter global policy head Monique Meche said in a statement.

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