Hours after Twitter on Monday withheld several accounts in India, it has started gradually restoring the handles. Among those accounts that were withheld earlier in the day were Caravan magazine and Kisan Ekta Morcha, a joint front representing the farmers protesting against the Centre’s agricultural laws. Twitter had said its action was in response to a legal demand.
“Is this tweet visible to Indian accounts?” tweeted Kisan Ekta Morcha, to verify if it had gained access. Caravan also shared two posts in a span of two hours. Activist Hansraj Meena, among various others whose accounts were suspended, confirmed that their handles have been restored.
Citing sources, ANI reported earlier in the day that the accounts were withheld based on the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs and law enforcement agencies to prevent any escalation of law and order situation during the farmers’ agitation.
“Ministry of Electronics and IT directed Twitter to block around 250 tweets/Twitter accounts which were using #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag and making fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets on January 30,” the news agency said.
The Ministry of Electronics & IT ordered that the accounts and tweets be blocked under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, according to ANI. However, The Hindu, citing sources, reported that Twitter was likely to challenge the order as the accounts were not in violation of its policy.
Nearly 250 accounts tweeting, or retweeting, with the #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag were blocked, NDTV reported.
The move came amid police action against several journalists after reports on the farmers’ Republic Day tractor rally. Several states have registered cases against journalists who reported that a protestor who died during the rally was allegedly shot by the police.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of farmers’ unions, had denounced Twitter’s action. “The government does not want facts to reach the protesting farmers,” it said. “It is fearful of the coordinated work of the farmers’ unions across different protest sites...this is undemocratic and illegal.”
On Saturday, the police had also arrested a contributor to the Caravan magazine while he was covering the clashes at Singhu border. Mandeep Punia was accused of misbehaving with a station house officer.
Caravan magazine’s Executive Editor Vinod K Jose said they were not informed about the action. “You can still access the magazine from the website,” he added.
Twitter had also withheld the accounts of writer Sanjukta Basu and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Salim.
Basu confirmed her account was restored, while asking others who faced the same problem to share their stories to her. “It seems my account is restored,” Basu tweeted. “I would like to do a story on the issue. Please connect with me if your account was blocked in India or suspended.” Salim, after gaining access to his account, criticised the Centre by calling the move “shameful”. He alleged that the Centre was restricting Twitter handles that were expressing solidarity with the protesting farmers.
Other accounts that got blocked are those of Prasar Bharati chief Shashi Shekhar Vempati, economist Ajit Ranade, parody account @EpicRoflDon, actor Sushant Singh, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Jarnail Singh and others.
Some more accounts associated with the farmers protest were also been blocked. These include farmers’ group Bharatiya Kisan Union Ekta Ugrahan and Tractor to Twitter. CPI(M) Puducherry’s handle was also withheld. However, it is not yet confirmed if all Twitter has restored access to all the accounts.
Several journalists and scholars took to Twitter to criticise the withholding of the accounts.
Twitter’s policy states that it may be necessary to withhold accounts in case of a “valid and properly scoped request from an authorised entity. “Such withholdings will be limited to the specific jurisdiction that has issued the valid legal demand or where the content has been found to violate local law(s),” the policy says.
It adds: “Transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify affected users unless we are prohibited from doing so (e.g., if we receive a court order under seal).”
But many scholars pointed out that the platform company’s policies are inconsistently applied across countries.