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Twitter withholds tweets on internet freedom in India, accounts of journalists in response to MeitY notice

The development comes a year after Twitter, in a blogpost, had said that it did not take action on accounts of news media entities because it would 'violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law'

June 27, 2022 / 07:14 PM IST
Representational image.

Representational image.

Several tweets including a few which indicated that Internet freedom in India was declining was withheld in India by Twitter in response to legal notices sent by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Disclosures made by Twitter to Lumen Database (and reviewed by Moneycontrol) also showed that other tweets and accounts that were withheld included that of journalist Rana Ayyub, many politicians affiliated with the Indian National Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and CPIM, and lastly, many official Pakistan government Twitter accounts.

Lumen Database receives and publishes disclosures by private entities, including social media companies, on the legal takedown notices they get from governments and other entities across the world.

The latest round of disclosures made public by Lumen Database on June 26 showed that five tweets of Freedom House, a United States of America government-funded non-profit, were withheld in India.

The tweets spanning between 2020 and 2021 were related to surveys conducted by Freedom House on the state of internet freedom across the world. The tweets accompanied by images showed that various governments in India had been blocking access to the internet.

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One of the withheld tweets in India, read, “In at least 28 countries, governments blocked people from websites or social media platforms. These actions are especially harmful during a pandemic, when access to information can directly impact people's health and safety.” The tweets are accessible in other countries.

Apart from that, accounts of journalist CJ Werleman, Pieter Friedrich, and activist MA Thakur were withheld in the country.

In a tweet, Thakur said, “After @cjwerleman and @RanaAyyub I've received a notice from @Twitter informing me my account has been withheld in #India. My entire account apparently, by order of India, is in violation of Indian Law. @TwitterSupport claims to support free speech yet restrict mine.”

He also appended an image which he claimed was an email from Twitter informing him that his account had been withheld.

The mail from Twitter reportedly said, “In order to comply with Twitter’s obligations under India’s local laws, we have withheld the following account in India under the country’s Information Technology Act, 2000; the content remains available elsewhere.”

Friedrich also tweeted, “The regime in India is systematically pressuring @Twitter to withhold accounts critical of it. If you’re in India, and can still access my account, please let me know.”

In another tweet, Friedrich shared a similar notice that Twitter reportedly sent to Thakur informing him of the account withholding in India.

The Lumen Database disclosure also showed that a tweet of Rana Ayyub had been withheld in India.

Ayyb tweeted an image of Twitter’s correspondence to her informing her of the action. Here too, Twitter in the email said, “In order to comply with Twitter’s obligations under India’s local laws, we have withheld the following account under the country’s IT Act 2000.”

Former UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye condemned these acts of censorship and pointed out that Twitter, last year, had expressed their support for media in the face of similar requests of withholding made by the government.

Kaye tweeted, “#India and pro-Modi harassers are once again taking aim at @RanaAyyub. last year Twitter suggested support for the media even in India in the face of such demands. the company said this, and the big question now is: what’s changed? why does Rana not benefit from this policy?”

In February 2021, Twitter in a blogpost titled “Updates on our response to blocking orders from the Indian government” had claimed that they had not taken any action on accounts of news media entities.

“Because we do 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, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021,” the blogpost read.

Additionally, the disclosure made by Lumen Database showed that Twitter has withheld the official Twitter accounts of the Government of Pakistan, Embassy of Pakistan in Egypt, Embassy of Pakistan in Iran, Embassy of Pakistan in Turkey, Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations and Radio Pakistan.
Aihik Sur covers tech policy, drones, space tech among other beats at Moneycontrol
first published: Jun 27, 2022 07:14 pm
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