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Elon Musk’s X takes on Indian government in freedom of speech row amid farmer protests

X confirms it has suspended accounts and posts related to farmer protests in India but says company ‘disagree[s] with these actions’

Vishwam Sankaran
Thursday 22 February 2024 11:39 GMT
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Related video: Police fire live rounds killing one farmer during protests in India

Elon Musk’s X, previously known as Twitter, confirmed that it took down some accounts and posts related to India’s ongoing farmers’ protests to comply with the government’s orders this week, while stressing that the company “disagrees” with these actions.

“The Indian government has issued executive orders requiring X to act on specific accounts and posts, subject to potential penalties including significant fines and imprisonment,” the official account of X’s Global Government Affairs team posted.

“In compliance with the orders, we will withhold these accounts and posts in India alone; however, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts,” it said.

Thousands of Indian farmers resumed protests last week as talks with the government failed to meet their demands for guaranteed crop prices.

Authorities are attempting to prevent demonstrators from reaching the capital from surrounding agrarian states, and have responded to protests with tear gas on multiple occasions in the past week. There are concerns the situation could mirror the mass movement two years ago when tens of thousands of Indian farmers set up camps on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than a year, eventually forcing the repeal of a controversial package of reforms.

The latest protests also come at a crucial time as India prepares for general elections in the coming months in which prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to win a third term in office.

Amid the current wave of protests, the central government ordered Twitter to block some accounts or posts on social media that were largely critical of the BJP, while secrecy has been maintained surrounding these decisions.

According to the 2009 Blocking Rules, the government is allowed to order platforms to take down users’ accounts or posts without having to explain why.

Small Indian farmers demand fixed prices amidst pro-corporation farming law vulnerability

“Due to legal restrictions, we are unable to publish the executive orders, but we believe that making them public is essential for transparency. This lack of disclosure can lead to a lack of accountability and arbitrary decision-making,” X said.

The social media platform said it is challenging the government’s blocking order in court and has also provided notice of its actions to users whose accounts or posts were taken down.

“Consistent with our position, a writ appeal challenging the Indian government’s blocking orders remains pending. We have also provided the impacted users with notice of these actions in accordance with our policies,” the company said.

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