Twitter faces a political disaster in India, where it's taking heat from both the government and protesters over the suspension of accounts
- Twitter suspended 500 accounts in India and said the Indian government issued takedown requests.
- The social media site temporarily complied but has since restored some of the accounts.
- This is happening as Narendra Modi’s government cracks down on farmer protests.
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Twitter is looking down the barrel of a political disaster in India.
In a blog post published Wednesday, the social media company said it has suspended 500 accounts in India who were “engaging in clear examples of platform manipulation and spam.” It also said it blocked “certain terms” from appearing in its trending section, but did not say what these terms were.
Twitter also revealed it’s been getting messages from India’s government.
The company said: “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.”
It continued: “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.”
Twitter said it has at least semi-complied with the government’s demands. In the blog it said has taken action against “more than 500” of the accounts flagged to it by the MeitY, including suspensions. It did not clarify how many suspensions it upheld as a result of the order.
The MeitY tweeted on Wednesday saying Twitter had requested a meeting with the government prior to publishing the blog post. “Upon the request of Twitter seeking a meeting with the Govt., the Secretary IT was to engage with senior management of Twitter. In this light a blog post published prior to this engagement is unusual. Govt. will share its response soon,” it said in a statement.
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Last week, Twitter suspended the accounts for numerous high-profile journalists and publications in India, a decision it quietly reversed after they were inaccessible for roughly 12 hours. The platform received considerable backlash from commentators saying it had assisted the Indian government in quashing freedom of speech.
Narendra Modi’s government reacted to Twitter restoring the accounts by threatening its Indian employees with jail time.
The backdrop for the government’s demands are ongoing protests from millions of farmers over three agricultural reform bills the government passed in September. Although the protests have been going on since August, the Indian government has started cracking down on protesters, and in late January ordered an internet shutdown in New Delhi.
“The Indian government is no stranger to clamping down on freedom of expression and stifling the free flow of information online. It has implemented more internet shutdowns than anywhere else in the world and repeatedly restricts citizens’ access to the internet during politically significant moments,” Samuel Woodhams, a researcher at digital rights organization Top10VPN, told Insider.
“There’s no doubt social media platforms are in a difficult position, particularly given the threat of fines and potential imprisonment if they don’t follow the government’s orders. However, it remains their duty to do everything in their power to defend freedom of expression online,” he added.
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