Twitter, ordered by the government to block 1,178 accounts for allegedly spreading misinformation on the farmer protests and provocative content, said today it had withheld a portion of the accounts and within India only. The US social media giant also said it had not taken any action on accounts of media, journalists, activists and politicians as it violated “the right to freedom of expression under Indian law”.
The blog noted that the values that underpin the Open Internet and free expression “are increasingly under threat around the world”. Twitter said following the reports of violence in Delhi during the Republic Day protest, it wanted to share a granular update on its “proactive efforts to enforce our rules and defend our principles in India”.
An update on our work to protect the public conversation in recent weeks in India. https://t.co/DNKjCup2j6
— Twitter India (@TwitterIndia) February 10, 2021
The government had asked Twitter to remove 1,178 listed handles that it said belonged to Pakistani and Khalistani users and were spreading misinformation on the farmer protests outside Delhi since November. The site informed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of its action 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 in a blog post.
“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,” it said.
The microblogging site said it existed to empower voices to be heard and continued to make improvements to its service so that everyone – no matter their views or perspective – felt safe participating in the public conversation.
“We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve and are actively 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,” it asserted.
Twitter said it was served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. “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. After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice.”
Defending its moves, Twitter said it took steps to reduce the visibility of hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms.
It also said a range of action, including permanent suspension, was taken against more than 500 accounts escalated across all government orders.