Twitter takes actions on over 500 accounts in India amid government warning

Twitter said on Wednesday it has taken actions on more than 500 accounts and reduced visibility of some hashtags in India in the past 10 days to comply with “several” orders from the Indian government after New Delhi threatened to take action against executives with American social network for not obeying its notices.

Twitter said since January 26, when protests from millions of farmers in India took a violent turn and misinformation started to spread on the platform, the company has taken actions — including in some cases, permanent suspension — on hundreds of accounts that violated its rules and prevented certain terms from appearing in the Trends section.

“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 (MeitY), Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. 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 company said, in part to be transparent about the steps it has taken in the world’s second largest internet market.

The company said it has also withheld a portion of the accounts that New Delhi had ordered to be blocked, keeping them available outside of the country. It did not take any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians, the company said. “To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021,” it said.

Several users in India had tweeted using the hashtag “modiplanningfarmersgenocide, aimed at New Delhi’s agriculture reforms. The company said several accounts and hashtags violated the Twitter Rules, particularly inciting violence, abuse, wishes of harm, and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm. A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that hashtags that were merely supporting farmers have not been restricted.

The order targeted more than 200 accounts that had tweeted using the hashtag #modiplanningfarmersgenocide, aimed at New Delhi’s agriculture reforms. Thousands of farmers have been camping on the outskirts of the city for more than two months protesting against the new legislation, which aims to promote greater private sector competition.

India demanded Twitter to block hundreds of accounts earlier this month over concerns that many users were producing false, intimidatory and provocative tweets late last months. Twitter had initially complied with the order, which resulted in blocking accounts of The Caravan (a news outlet that conducts investigative journalism), political commentator Sanjukta Basu, activist Hansraj Meena, actor Sushant Singh, and Shashi Shekhar Vempati, chief executive of state-run broadcasting agency Prasar Bharti. Accounts of at least two politicians with Aam Aadmi Party — Preeti Sharma Menon and Jarnail Singh — that governs the National Capital Territory of Delhi were also blocked.

However, hours later, Twitter lifted the block, citing users’ freedom of speech. The move prompted a showdown between the American social network and the Indian government, which issued a warning saying non-compliance with its order may result in penal action against Twitter and up to seven year of jail time to its executives.

“We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve and are actively exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow,” the company said today.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

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