Twitter India Stuck in a Standoff With Indian Government

 


In a statement dated Feb. 10, Twitter replied to the Government of India's call to block more than 250 accounts related to ongoing farmers' protests. It said that the accounts of journalists, media organizations, campaigners and politicians will not be capped.

However, the Twitter team said that they had complied with "a portion of the accounts" directed to block the government, which is still available to all outside India.

India criticized Twitter for failing to comply with its directives to delete some accounts and content, advising the social media site that it "must respect" Indian laws "irrespective of Twitter's own rules and guidelines."

The Twitter company said in a blog on Feb 10 that the Indian government had "served with several separate blocking orders" against hundreds of Twitter accounts in the past 10 days.

Earlier last week, many of these pages were temporarily suspended at the government's behest, but restored them a few hours later following a media uproar, including one with more than 200,000 fans backing ongoing demonstrations by farmers against new agricultural reforms and another in one of the country's most influential magazines.

Twitter said it reinstated the accounts "in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law," but it was struck by a notification of non-compliance by the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

In a statement released on Feb 10, Wednesday night, the Indian government said it had requested Twitter to delete tweets and accounts using hashtags that included the word "farmer genocide," as well as the accounts that it said were funded by separatist sympathizers and sponsored by India's neighbor and Pakistan's competitor.

The government added that Twitter "is welcome to do business in India" but it has to abide by local rules, and criticized "the manner in which Twitter has complied with some important parts of the order in a resentful manner with a great amount of delay."

The social media firm said it had taken some steps against more than 500 accounts that had been flagged by the government's orders. Twitter said some of the accounts were in clear violation of its rules. Twitter removed the hashtags containing harmful content. It also made some accounts visible only outside India.

But Twitter said that “We think the orders instructed to us are not consistent with Indian law. They also said that “We did not take any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians to do justice to protected speech and freedom of expression.

Twitter’s spokesperson said that “We read every report extensively which is provided by the government and take appropriate actions regarding it but we also make sure that we abide by the fundamental values and commitment to protecting public conversation.” He also added that “We also believe that open and free exchange of information has a positive impact on the world, and the tweets must continue to flow.”

 

Is Not Abiding With Indian Government Orders Risky for Twitter?

With more than 700 million Internet users, India is a massive and critical market for global tech giants, although an extremely precarious one, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government tries to strengthen its hold on the internet and social media.

The Modi government has previously clashed with websites such as Facebook and WhatsApp, and has introduced legislation that will broaden its capacity to police online content. It also blocked TikTok and hundreds of other applications last year after political tensions with China worsened, and has resorted to shutting down the internet in a number of parts of the world to suppress protests.

Twitter is newest social media platform which is clashing with the Indian government. It has become the most used platform for debates over farmers’ protests going on in India. The debates are not only taking place between journalists or farmers leaders, it is echoing globally.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of the Fair Labs advocacy organization said that "The shrinking space for civil society is being mirrored by censorship and anti-democratic regulatory moves to censor users from their rights to free speech," he also added that "It is time for the world to understand how much is at risk right now and for American companies like Twitter and Facebook to act before it's too late."

The two main risks were highlighted by Jillian York, Director of Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The first risk is at the twitter employees in India. They are at risk if the social media firm does not comply with the government’s demands.

The second is risk is that twitter can get blocked in India. It may be the right decision but it will not be the best decision as many people depend on social media for getting important messages and the news of what’s happening around the globe in India.

David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who previously served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression said that “I think there’s still a risk for Modi in particular of appearing to be unable to handle such fundamental democratic principles like the right to peaceful assembly, the right to protest, and so on.

 “He also said that “I think it’ll be interesting to see if the Biden administration and other governments, who are friendly with India but are in the democratic camp, really encourage the government to take a different approach here.”

Written by - Anushka Jain

Edited by - Adrija Saha

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