Twitter became the recipient of nationwide scorn this past week, after its location tagging system showed the Union Territory of Ladakh as a part of China. Now, it has been admonished by the Indian government, according to reports by multiple publications including Economic Times and PTI. Ajay Sawhney, secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has written to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, expressing “strong disapproval” over the issue and and warned the company for “disrespect[ing] the country’s sovereignty”.

How it started: On October 19, Nitin Gokhale, a journalist and security analyst, went live from the Hall of Fame in Leh. Twitter showed his location as “Jammu and Kashmir, People’s Republic of China”. Gokhale asked his followers to “flood” Twitter with complaints, and said the Indian government should take immediate action. The next day, Gokhale said Twitter had acknowledged that it had been a mistake, and had resolved it after investigation. Gokhale was not satisfied: when he went live again, Twitter showed his location as “Jammu And Kashmir”, and not the Union Territory of Ladakh, to reflect the region’s current status since the reorganisation of the erstwhile state in August 2019. Gokhale’s tweets were shared widely on the microblogging platform.

India and China are party to several territorial disputes. The Aksai Chin region, claimed by India to be part of the union territory of Ladakh, has been administered by China since the 1962 Indo-China war. In recent months, both countries have been involved in a standoff along the line of actual control (LAC) in Galwan Valley, culminating in the death of several Indian and Chinese soldiers on June.   

IT secy writes to Twitter CEO

After several days of Twitter’s snafu, Sawhney wrote a strongly-worded letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Sawhney expressed disapproval over the misrepresentation of the India map, and said that any attempt by Twitter to “disrespect the country’s sovereignty and integrity” is unacceptable. Sawhney also raised questions about Twitter’s neutrality and fairness as an intermediary.

The senior bureaucrat reminded Twitter that both Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir are “integral and inalienable” parts of India.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a former Union minister took to Twitter to express his satisfaction with the development. “If Twitter wants to do business in India then it must respect our sovereignty and our laws,” he said.

Mapping Jammu and Kashmir a challenge for internet companies

This is not the first time any company, let alone Twitter, has committed the mistake of wrongly attributing regions in Jammu and Kashmir to China or Pakistan. In fact, right when social media users was raging against Twitter, Xiaomi was flagged for similar reasons. The Chinese smartphone maker was accused of not showing weather details of Arunachal Pradesh on its official weather app. Users claimed they were unable to search for Itanagar or any other place from Arunachal Pradesh on the app. Xiaomi later blamed it on a “technical error”, reported Business Today. The company said it depends on third-party apps for its weather data, and it doesn’t have information for many places.

It should be noted that almost all multi-national companies operating in India have tailored their mapping services based on the Indian government’s territorial claims. For instance, when accessed from an Indian IP address, Google Maps shows the whole of Jammu and Kashmir as a part of India, including Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). When accessed from other parts of the world, the same region will be demarcated with dotted lines to indicate their disputed status.