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Election Commission orders takedown of two tweets for promoting enmity between groups

The Election Commission of India on Sunday ordered Twitter to “take down” two tweets “immediately” under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 125 of the Representation of the People Act. MediaNama obtained information about the takedowns from the Lumen Database, to which Twitter discloses takedown notices like these from time to time. The two tweets were posted by a Dr. Ram Sarswat and another user.

“In response to the notice issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI) we have withheld escalated content in India only. The account holder has been notified so they’re informed we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account. Request to withhold content has been published on Lumen. Read more in our Legal request FAQs,” Twitter said in a statement.

MediaNama first reported on Saturday that Twitter had been ordered by the Indian government to take down over fifty tweets largely criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Sarswat has over 32,000 followers, and says on his profile that he is “Followed by @narendramodi ji”. One tweet revolves around a reported clash in Kolkata’s Metiabruz area, and the other mentioned a supposedly similar conflict in Selimpur. Both tweets colored the events in communally divisive terms. Sarswat has deleted his tweet, while the other user still has their post up. We have reached out to ECI for comment.

Section 125 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 prohibits “attempts to promote on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language, feelings of enmity or hatred, between different classes of the citizens of India” in connection with an election. Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 prohibits “[p]romoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.” Both laws carry criminal penalties, and it is unclear if ECI will pursue charges against the two people who posted these tweets.

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The last takedown notice that Twitter disclosed from the Election Commission was from last November 2020, when a tweet by the Indian National Congress’s main handle was taken down for violating a 48-hour silence period in force in the days before polling.

Update (5:03pm): Added statement from Twitter.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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