Twitter suspends over 500 accounts after Indian government orders

Upon the request of Twitter seeking a meeting with the government, the Secretary IT was to engage with senior management of the company.

Published: 10th February 2021 10:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th February 2021 03:58 PM   |  A+A-

Image of Twitter logo for representational purposes. (File | Reuters)

Image of Twitter logo for representational purposes. (File photo| Reuters)


NEW DELHI: Twitter on Wednesday said it has suspended over 500 accounts, and blocked access to several others within India as it partly acceded to a government order to curb spread of misinformation and inflammatory content around farmers' protests.

Twitter, in a blogpost, said it has not blocked accounts consisting of "news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians" as doing so "would violate their fundamental right to free expression" guaranteed under the country's law.

The government, however, termed as "unusual" Twitter's move to publish the blogpost before a slated talks with the IT Secretary on the issue, as sought by the US company.

"Upon the request of Twitter seeking a meeting with the government, the Secretary IT was to engage with senior management of Twitter. In this light, a blog post published prior to this engagement is unusual," IT Ministry said in its response on Koo, a homegrown social networking platform.

Government will share its response soon, the post on Koo said. Koo is being touted as the homegrown contender to Twitter.

The blogpost by Twitter on Wednesday morning had the microblogging platform emphasising it will continue to advocate for the right of free expression of its users and that it is "actively exploring options under Indian law - both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted".

The development comes in the backdrop of the government - on February 4 - ordering Twitter to take down 1,178 accounts with links to Pakistan and Khalistan supporters that were spreading misinformation and provocative content related to farmers' protest.

In all, Twitter has taken action against over 1,000 accounts - 500 as sought by the government and an equal number that were found by the company engaging in platform manipulation and spam.

The government had late last month sought blocking of 257 tweets and handles in connection with the agitation by farmers over the new pro-market agricultural laws.

Twitter complied, only to restore the accounts hours later. This led to the government issuing a non-compliance notice and a warning of stringent penalties and potential jail terms.

Seeking to clarify its stance, Twitter - in its blogpost on Wednesday - said it had taken steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content that included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended Search terms.

It has "withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders" within India, making them accessible only outside the country.

Stating that it has informed the IT Ministry (MeitY) of its enforcement action, Twitter said it has taken a range of enforcement actions against over 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders - including permanent suspension in certain cases for violation of its rules.

"Today, 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 said.

It, however, did not provide details of the handles against whom action had been taken. Twitter argued that it has not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians as it does "not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression."

It contended that doing so would violate the fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. "We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow," it said.

Emphasising that transparency is the foundation for promoting healthy public conversation on the platform and earning trust, Twitter said it is critical that people understand its approach to content moderation and how it engages with governments globally.

"The values that underpin the Open Internet and free expression are increasingly under threat around the world. 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," Twitter said.

Twitter said, following the reports of violence in New Delhi in recent weeks, it wanted to share a granular update on its proactive efforts it took to enforce its rules.

Starting January 26, Twitter said its global team took action "judiciously and impartially" on content, Trends, Tweets, and accounts that were in violation of its rules and took action on "hundreds of accounts" that violated its rules on "inciting violence, abuse, wishes of harm, and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm".

Actions taken included preventing certain terms from appearing in the Trends section and suspension of more than 500 accounts that were engaging in clear examples of platform manipulation and spam.

Apart from its enforcement under the Twitter Rules, the company said it had been served with several separate blocking orders by MeitY under Section 69A of the IT 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," it said.

Twitter further pointed out that after this was communicated to MeitY, it was served with a non-compliance notice.



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