Amid its stand-off with the Centre, Twitter on Wednesday partly acceded to a Government order to curb the spread of alleged misinformation and inflammatory content around farmers’ protests. The microblogging site said it has suspended over 500 accounts and blocked access to several others within India.
Twitter, in a blog post, said it has not blocked accounts consisting of “news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians” as doing so “would violate their fundamental right to free expression” guaranteed under the country’s law.
Twitter’s decision to counter the Ministry of Electronics and IT’s order by not cancelling many other accounts and offering a public explanation through a blog has not amused the Ministry.
The Ministry termed as “unusual” Twitter’s move to publish the blogpost before a slated talks with the IT Secretary on the issue, as sought by the US company. Interestingly, the Ministry replied to Twitter through a newly-developed homegrown social networking platform, Koo, which has been joined by several Ministers, Ministries and prominent rightwingers.
“Upon the request of Twitter seeking a meeting with the Government, the Secretary IT was to engage with senior management of Twitter. In this light, a blog post published prior to this engagement is unusual,” the IT Ministry said in its response on Koo. The Government will share its response soon, the post on Koo said.
In the blog post, Twitter said it will continue to advocate for the right of free expression of its users and that it is “actively exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted”.
The development comes against the backdrop of the Government on February 4 ordering Twitter to take down 1,178 accounts with links to Pakistan and Khalistan supporters that were spreading misinformation and provocative content related to farmers’ protest. In all, Twitter has taken action against over 1,000 accounts — 500 as sought by the Government and an equal number that were found by the company engaging in platform manipulation and spam.
The Government had late last month sought to block 257 tweets and handles in connection with the agitation by farmers over the new pro-market agricultural laws.
Twitter complied, only to restore the accounts hours later. This led to the Government issuing a non-compliance notice and a warning of stringent penalties and potential jail terms.
Seeking to clarify its stance, Twitter in its blog post said it had taken steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content that included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms. It has “withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders” within India, making them accessible only outside the country.
Stating that it has informed the IT Ministry (MeitY) of its enforcement action, Twitter said it has taken a range of enforcement actions against over 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders – including permanent suspension in certain cases for violation of its rules.
“…Today, we have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India,” Twitter said. It, however, did not provide details of the handles against whom action had been taken.
Twitter argued that it has not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians as it does “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”.
Thursday, 11 February 2021 | PNS | New Delhi