Twitter on Wednesday said that it has withheld “a portion” of accounts which the Indian government had directed the microblogging platform to block for allegedly spreading misinformation about the farmers’ protest. In a blogpost, it however added that actions were taken only against selected accounts as Twitter did not believe that the government’s orders were “consistent with Indian law”.
“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,” the company said in a blog. “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.”
Twitter said that since the government had sent it a notice for non-compliance, it wanted to clarify the steps it took to censor harmful content. The platform had unblocked 250 accounts tweeting with an alleged objectionable hashtag on February 1, just hours after withholding them.
“We took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms,” the company said. “We took a range of enforcement actions – including permanent suspension in certain cases – against more than 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s Rules.”
It added: “Separately, today [Wednesday], 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 clarified that it had not taken any action against news media entities, journalists, activists and and politicians. “To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law,” Twitter said. “We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021. We will continue to maintain dialogue with the Indian government and respectfully engage with them.”
Twitter noted that internet freedom and liberty of expression were under an increasing threat globally. “Following the reports of violence in New Delhi in recent weeks, we wanted to share a granular update on our proactive efforts to enforce our rules and defend our principles in India,” it said. “Twitter exists to empower voices to be heard, and we continue to make improvements to our service so that everyone – no matter their views or perspective – feels safe participating in the public conversation.”
The company said it would continue to advocate for the right of free expression on people’s behalf. “We are 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.”
Earlier this month, the Centre had directed Twitter to block nearly 1,200 accounts with suspected links to Khalistan sympathisers or Pakistan. Before that, it had asked for the removal of 250 accounts and tweets using the “ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide” hashtag.
There has been a clampdown on the farmers’ protest in the aftermath of the violence during the Republic Day tractor rally. More than 100 people have been arrested in connection with the violence and several are reportedly missing. Protest sites near Delhi have also been heavily barricaded, with nails dug into the roads.