Twitter has restricted access to columnist and Amnesty International’s former India head Aakar Patel’s account to Indian users. The company said a legal demand from India (either a court or government order) resulted in the takedown. This comes days after Patel posted a tweet hoping that Dalits, women, and Adivasis in India would protest their conditions like Americans have in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. It’s not clear if that tweet is what led to his account being withheld in India, but it’s worth noting that police in Bangalore filed an FIR against Patel for that tweet on June 5. In response to a query by MediaNama, Twitter did not provide a copy of the legal order — they usually make takedown notices that they act upon public.
A Twitter spokesperson told us:
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. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing so e.g. if we receive a court order under seal). More information can be found here.
Twitter’s boilerplate response mirrors the company’s help documentation and contains no specific information about the suspension. Patel provided us with a copy of the email notifying him of his account’s visibility being pulled in India:
Patel has been an outspoken critic of the government. We have filed an RTI with the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, which has routinely ordered posts to be taken down on social media sites, to find out if the government ordered his account’s restriction.
The government has increasingly been using Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 to block access to social media links, restricting access to 7,819 URLs in 2019, over double the links it ordered social media companies to remove in 2017. Social media platforms usually deal with these orders by leaving the posts up (if they are compliant with their community standards) but restricting access to them to Indian users. Twitter’s implementation allows users to see restricted posts and accounts if users simply change their country in the site’s settings.