Legal demands made by the Indian government and courts to remove content from Twitter increased by 48,000% between 2014 and 2020, an analysis of the social media company’s global transparency reports by The Indian Express showed.

In the same period, the number of content-blocking orders given to social media companies by the government increased by approximately 1,991%, data shared with Parliament showed, according to the newspaper.

Minister of State for Electronics and IT Sanjay Dhotre said the Union government had asked social media firms to take down 9,849 links from their platforms under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act in 2020. In 2014, the government had made 471 such requests.

Section 69A of the Act allows the government to block public access to content in the interest of national security.

According to Twitter’s transparency reports, India had requested the microblogging platform to remove 12,373 posts, of which over 9,000 requests were made in 2020. Twitter has about 24 million users in India.

India accounted for 11% of all global demands for content removal and information requests, coming fourth after Japan, Russia and Turkey.

Moreover, the Centre made 89 legal demands against verified journalists and news outlets.

“Three tweets were withheld in India in relation to legal requests for content removal under the Information Technology Act, 2000,” the report stated. “The three tweets were from the accounts of Indian journalists and were reported for possible incitement towards offline harm.”

In the first six months of last year, India had asked Twitter to take down 4,900 tweets. This coincided with the government in February 2021 asking Twitter to remove hundreds of accounts that criticised it for its handling of the large-scale farmer protests which started in November 2020. The social media platform initially refused, but eventually relented after its local employees were threatened with prison time.

In April last year, the Centre had asked Twitter to pull down accounts that criticised the government’s handling of Covid-19 during the second wave when lakhs of people died.

The Centre has also repeatedly criticised Twitter for not fully complying with the Information Technology rules that came into force in May last year.

During that month itself, Twitter officers were raided by the Delhi Police in a case where the government appeared to be annoyed that the ruling party’s propaganda was labelled “manipulated media” by the social media company.

Twitter has moved the Karnataka High Court saying that the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had been ordering it to block entire accounts without informing it about the specific tweets that necessitated such action.

“Several of the URLs contain political and journalistic content,” the company’s petition said. “Blocking of such information is a gross violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed to citizen-users of the platform.”

The microblogging site added that in many cases, the ministry did not cite reasons for issuing the orders to block content, which is a requirement under Section 69A.

Centre’s action on other platforms

Between 2014 and 2020, the government asked Google to take down over 9,000 content pieces from Search, YouTube, Gmail, and Bloggr, The Indian Express reported. The Centre cited reasons such as criticism of the government, defamation, adult content and impersonation in its order.

On Facebook, blocking actions have witnessed a downward trend. In 2014, the social media platform removed 10,000 pieces of content. In 2019 and 2020, not more than 2,100 links were blocked on the platform.

Though, Facebook India has often come under scrutiny for spreading misinformation.

In October, Facebook’s internal documents accessed by Bloomberg and other American media showed that the social media company’s algorithm led a dummy user in India to misinformation, hate speech and violent content within just three weeks of its launch.

In the same month, the Congress had accused Facebook of influencing elections in India through fake accounts on bots.