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Twitter largely reverses censorship of Indian accounts, offers no explanation, disclosure

Twitter

After a wide sweep of censorship restricted several Twitter accounts on Monday, which included The Caravan magazine, Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati and the Kisan Ekta Morcha, the company has now reversed track. TIME magazine reported that these accounts were targeted because of tweets on farmer protests, and Twitter restored them after telling the Indian government that the tweets were newsworthy. While the company hasn’t provided TIME an on-record statement, the magazine said it was told that Twitter maintained that the legal demand was valid. The accounts have been unblocked in India. However, it is unclear what court order or legal demand caused the censorship. MediaNama has reached out to Twitter for comment, and we will update this story if we hear back from them.

It is unclear just how many accounts were affected, but the targeting did not appear to be laser-focused on any interest group, as at least one prominent pro-establishment figure was affected. After Vempati, the Prasar Bharati CEO, had his account withheld, the Doordarshan parent took to Twitter to publicly demand an explanation from the social media platform, but soon took that tweet down. It’s unclear why.

No disclosure by Twitter

Twitter committed in 2017 to disclose region-specific takedown demands globally to Lumen, a directory of such requests. Twitter said in a statement on Monday that it only avoids disclosure of legal demands to Lumen if it is prohibited from doing so. That may be possible under a small set of circumstances: the company received a court order under seal, or a confidential order under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. However, considering the speed with which the accounts were restored, it is not clear what kind of legal process led to the geo-blocking of the handles. MediaNama reviewed recent disclosures by Twitter of requests received from the Indian government, and did not find any that demanded the blocking of accounts affected yesterday.

“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,” Twitter said in an email yesterday to affected users. “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.”

This is a repeat of the censorship that took place with journalist Aakar Patel’s Twitter account, which was also not disclosed to Lumen at the time we reported the incident. That censorship too was reversed after users complained to Twitter about the blocking.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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