The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) sent Twitter India a notice for non-compliance with its order earlier this week to block specific tweets and accounts on the micro-blogging site. The notice was issued on Tuesday as the platform reversed the block on accounts that the ministry tagged in a request under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Indian Express reported.
On M0nday, Twitter India blocked specific accounts and tweets belonging to the Caravan Magazine, Kisan Ekta Morcha, @Tractor2twitr, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), actor Sushant Singh.actor Sushant Singh, political commentator and author Sanjukta Basu and activist Hansraj Meena among several others. The tweets were related the farmer’s protest that has been going on in the National Capital Region for the last few months. The government claimed that these accounts promoted the use of a specific hashtag, which stated that the Prime Minister was planning a genocide against farmers.
Later that evening, Twitter restored the accounts after meeting with MEITY officials, arguing that the tweets were “newsworthy” and constituted “free speech”, the report said. Unnamed officials said that while Twitter tried to push back against the order, the government has not budged from its position since the tweets ‘insulted’ the prime minister and accused him of “carrying out a genocide on farmers,” it added.
MediaNama has sent queries to the Ministry of Electronics and IT. Officials at the MEITY declined to comment on the developed when MediaNama reached out to them. Twitter declined to comment.
What the notice to Twitter says
Twitter is bound by orders of Centre: According to the Hindustan Times, the 18-page notice sent to Twitter said that the decision to block the hashtag “#ModiPlanningFarmerGrnocide” was found to be ” instigating people to commit cognizable offences in relations to public order and security of the state”. The notice told the company it could not decide whether the decision to block was impractical or disproportionate as Twitter “which is an intermediary [is] bound by the orders of the Central government”.
Hashtag a motivated campaign, not free speech: The government told Twitter that the hashtag was a motivated campaign “to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds”. It said that the “incitement to genocide is not freedom of speech”, but a threat to law and order.
Hashtag was accompanied by crude content: Twitter defended the tweets stating that the hashtag does not constitute inflammatory speech since the related content could be seen as “praises, exaggerations and crude emotional appeals”. However, the government found the argument to be meritless, saying that it directly fell afoul of Section 69A of the IT Act. “In this regard, it is necessary to point out to the stated irrationality of Twitter conducting a purported constitutional balancing act in the absence of any legal mandate,” the notice reportedly said.
Interim order did not remove block: The government told Twitter that an interim order was passed February 1, which maintained the block of URLs/hashtags in place, but the company “chose not to comply to the mandate of law and the order passed by the competent authority, legally endowed with the jurisdiction to pass the same”. Not only was Twitter admitting to non-compliance, the government said, it was trying to justify the same. It also threatened of consequences on Twitter, noting that Section 69A “provided for specific consequences on case of non-compliance of directions issued under section 69A of the Act.”
A balancing act
Twitter finds itself yet again at the cross-road between regulating and censoring content. Just last month, as former President of the United States Donald Trump was set to depart from his position, the platform banned him for life. It has also banned specific far-right content on its platform, specifically after rioters stormed the US Capitol Building. Closer home, Twitter had temporarily blocked the account of Aakar Patel, a former head of Amnesty International’s Indian unit. Twitter recently flagged tweets by the ruling Bharaitya Janata Party’s IT Cell head Amit Malviya for misinformation, just like it had done earlier for some of Trump’s tweets.
Twitter, like many other social media platforms, has been the recipient of criticism for the opacity in how it moderates or blocks content on its platform. The company did not offer explanations to many of the users whose accounts were blocked on Monday. To some users, it sent an email stating: “As Twitter strongly believes in defending and respecting the voice of our users, it is our policy to notify our users if we receive a legal request from an authorized entity (such as law enforcement or a government agency) to remove content from their account. We provide notice whether or not the user lives in the country where the request originated, however, we are legally prohibited from disclosing who submitted this request.”
- Twitter largely reverses censorship of Indian accounts, offers no explanation, disclosure
- Indian Govt information requests to Twitter increased due to Delhi riots and COVID-19 pandemic
- Bihar government plans to criminalise ‘insulting’ criticism of the government: Report
***Update (6:30 PM, February 3): Corrected the acronym for Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. Originally published at 4:35 PM, February 3.