Surekha Ragavan
Feb 11, 2021

Twitter bows to Indian govt pressure following threat of noncompliance

Following legal threats, the social media giant agrees to block a number of accounts that were critical of the government’s handling of the ongoing farmers’ protests.

Farmers protest new farm laws near New Delhi. (Getty Images)
Farmers protest new farm laws near New Delhi. (Getty Images)

This Wednesday, Twitter agreed to permanently suspend over 500 accounts that the government said made “inflammatory remarks about [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi” around his administration’s handling of the farmers’ protests over the last four months.

Twitter said Modi’s government demanded last week that hundreds of accounts be taken down for criticising the government, but Twitter stood its ground on the basis of free speech. However, the Indian government threatened prison for local employees on the grounds of noncompliance, after which Twitter succumbed. If charged, the company’s local employees could be incarcerated for up to seven years.

In a Twitter statement dated February 10, it said that over the course of the last 10 days, it had been served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, under the Information Technology Act. Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that the company said it temporarily complied with, but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that it believed was “consistent with Indian law”. 

The company emphasises that it will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people it serves. “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,” the statement read. It added that it was exploring its options under local laws and had requested a meeting with a senior government official.

From a Twitter report that records the number of legal demands from various markets, 96% of total global requests were made in India, Japan, Turkey, Russia and South Korea. The number of information and emergency requests demanded by India has exponentially increased over the years while it also made 5,900 requests for access to personal information of users between January 2012 and June 2020.

Meanwhile, homegrown multilingual social media app Koo has surged in popularity since the Twitter debacle took place. Some are calling Koo the “desi version of Twitter”. Launched in March last year, Koo won the Prime Minister's Aatma Nirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge, and garnered over a million subscribers as a result. In fact, Modi encouraged citizens to use Koo in his monthly Mann Ki Baat speech last August.

For context, thousands of Indian farmers have taken to the streets to protest three new farm laws that they say will make their value in the supply chain less equitable. Last week, Modi’s government ordered an internet shutdown in several districts around New Delhi following clashes between protestors and police that became violent. The shutdown—which was lifted early this week—was declared to stop protestors from mobilising.

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