Twitter blocked access to over a dozen high-profile individuals in India on Monday to comply with a “legal demand,” prompting confusion and anger among users who are seeking an explanation for this action.
Among those whose accounts have been withheld in India include Caravan, a news outlet that conducts investigative journalism, political commentator Sanjukta Basu, activist Hansraj Meena, actor Sushant Singh, and Shashi Shekhar Vempati, chief executive of state-run brodcasting agency Prasar Bharti. Accounts of at least two politicians with Aam Aadmi Party — Preeti Sharma Menon and Jarnail Singh — that governs the National Capital Territory of Delhi have also been withheld.
At least two popular accounts linked with ongoing protests by farmers — Kisan Ekta Morcha and Tractor2Twitr — in India have also been restricted.
At this point, it remains unclear who all have pursued the legal action that prompted Twitter to restrict these accounts in India. The accounts remain accessible to users outside of the country. But at least in the case of political commentator Basu, Twitter told him that Indian authorities had issued the legal demand against some accounts that included his and that it was talking with the authorities.
Citing a government source, AFP journalist Bhuvan Bagga is reporting that India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology directed Twitter to block around 250 tweets and accounts that were using a hashtag to make what it alleged were false, intimidatory and provocative tweets over the weekend. He adds: “Incitement to genocide is a grave threat to public order and therefore the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) ordered for blocking of these Twitter accounts and Tweets under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.”
“Section 69A and the IT Blocking Rules prevent intermediaries like Twitter from disclosing any information about blocking of an account or tweet. The confidentiality requirement present under Rule 16 of the IT Blocking Rules creates a bizarre situation where citizens have the right to challenge blocking of online content but they are unable to do so because they don’t have access to these legal orders,” said New Delhi-based advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation.
In a statement, a Twitter spokesperson said, “many countries have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time. Transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content.”
Twitter, which has amassed about 75 million users in India, has long faced serious criticism about the way it handles its operations in the country.
Unlike in the United States, Twitter has historically failed with the most basic content moderation in India and has required very little persuasion from the governing party to block accounts in the country in the past.