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MEITY instructs Twitter to block over 1,000 accounts related to farmers protest: Report

Credit: Kisan Ekta Morcha Twitter

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has instructed Twitter India to block more than 1,100 accounts related to the ongoing farmer’s protest, the Economic Times reported. This is the second order that the ministry has issued in recent weeks to block accounts on the micro-blogging site that were either involved in sharing information, or were commenting on specific developments related to the protest.

Last week, MEITY sent an order to Twitter to block 257 accounts and 1 hashtag. The accounts belonged to the Caravan Magazine, Kisan Ekta Morcha, Tractor2twitr, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) and others. While Twitter restored the accounts a few hours after blocked them arguing that they constituted ‘free speech’, the government did not budge from its position and sent a notice to Twitter enforcing its original order to block specific accounts and hashtag with immediate effect.

Citing unnamed government officials, the report said that MEITY sent a list of 1,178 accounts to Twitter on February 4, stating that these accounts, many of which are bots, were spreading misinformation and threatening public order. Twitter is yet to comply with the new order, the report said.

MediaNama has reached out to Twitter and MEITY for comments. Their responses will be included when received.

Twitter defied MEITY’s earlier order: In its notice last week, the MEITY argued that the blocks were necessary to maintain ‘public order’. It said that its order was proportionate as blocking individual tweets, as opposed to the accounts, was not practical. Further, the ministry said that Twitter was not in a position to deliberate on the efficacy of such orders and that since it is an intermediary operating in India, it was bound by Indian law. Any non-compliance by Twitter with MEITY’s order would have consequences, the notice said.

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The government also cited several cases, stating that its powers under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 were well defined and that the section is meant to be used as a preventive measure.

“Section 69A of the Act provides jurisdiction to the Central Government in cases wherein it considers it necessary or expedient to direct an intermediary to block for access for public and or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource if the Government is satisfied that the same is necessary or expedient in order to prevent incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to public order, “ MEITY said.

Timeline of events

  • The IT ministry passes an interim order on the afternoon of January 31, 2021 to block 257 URLs and one hashtag for allegedly spreading misinformation about the ongoing farmer protests, supposedly with the potential to lead to violence.
  • Twitter allegedly sits on the order for nearly a full day, then only imposes block on February 1. By the time Twitter’s advocate appears before the blocking committee, the handles and hashtag were allegedly blocked for only a few minutes.
  • Twitter unblocks accounts on evening of February 1.
  • Twitter replies to MEITY’s orders on February 1, declining to abide by order, saying that it had freedom of speech implications.
  • On February 2, MEITY sends a notice to Twitter over non-compliance with its blocking orders.
  • MEITY sends another order with a list of 1,178 accounts to be blocked on February 4, according to ET

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