Twitter suspends 500 more accounts in India amid free speech row with the government

Twitter refuses to comply with a government order to take down accounts of journalists, activists and politicians

Namita Singh
in Delhi
Wednesday 10 February 2021 12:24
Comments
<p>File Image: The government had asked Twitter to remove more than 1,100 accounts related to the ongoing farmer protests</p>

File Image: The government had asked Twitter to remove more than 1,100 accounts related to the ongoing farmer protests

In an escalating confrontation between Twitter and the Indian government over free speech on the platform, the social media giant on Wednesday said it has suspended more than 500 accounts on the orders of the Modi administration.

Twitter said it would only partially comply with the order from the government, which had asked for the deletion of almost 1,200 accounts, and argued that a request to block the accounts of journalists, activists and politicians was not consistent with the Indian law.

"Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians," Twitter said in a blog post.

"To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law," it said. The microblogging site further said that it will "continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people" it serves.

India’s technology ministry said the government will share its response soon while adding that the blog post preceded a planned meeting between it and senior Twitter executives. "In this light, a blog post published prior to this engagement is unusual," the ministry said.

The US-based company has found itself at the centre of a political firestorm after it refused to comply with a government directive to block more than 250 accounts and posts that were allegedly tweeting under a hashtag accusing prime minister Narendra Modi of "genocide" 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.

“Over the course of the last 10 days, Twitter has been served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act,” the company said.

“Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law. After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice,” the San Francisco-headquartered firm added.

The government has accused the accounts in question of spreading misinformation and provocative content about the ongoing farmers’ protests, while suggesting some may be connected to either its arch-rival and neighbour Pakistan or a banned Sikh separatist movement. 

The platform said it had taken “action on hundreds of accounts that violated the Twitter Rules, particularly inciting violence, abuse, wishes of harm, and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm”. It further said that it reduced “the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended Search terms”.

It also “suspended more than 500 accounts that were engaging in clear examples of platform manipulation and spam”, the post said, adding that the platform “tackled misinformation based on the highest potential for real-world harm, and prioritised labelling of Tweets that were in violation of our synthetic and manipulated media policy.”

Farmers have been protesting across India since the government passed three laws in September to reform the agricultural sector, opening it up to greater privatisation.

The government says the reforms are long overdue and will revitalise a sector that is currently heavily dependent on handouts from the public coffers; farmer unions say the changes will leave their members open to exploitation from big corporations. Talks between the two sides remain at a deadlock.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in