We missed this earlier: While invoking powers under Sec 144, the Jabalpur district administration has imposed curbs on Covid-19 related posts that are ‘objectionable, inciting and gory’ on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for two months.
On April 27, the office of the District Magistrate issued an order signed by Jabalpur district collector Karamveer Sharma saying, “It has been reported by the Superintendent of Police Jabalpur.. that social media websites like WhatsApp, Facebook, is currently being used by anti-social elements of the district to spread misinformation, fake news regarding Covid-19. Efforts are being to create and atmosphere of fear in general public by this.”
The order also said that there was a “possibility of people saying objectionable things regarding a religion” which may further lead to a law and order situation. “To ensure that such acitivites do not create fear among general public and for the purpose of ensuring legal action against such persons, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 in Jabalpur district Restrictive order is required to be issued under Section 144 (1),” the order read.
Sharma issued restraining orders for anyone who posts and ‘misleading, objectionable or provocative photos/pictures/messages related to any religion or sect in the the entire revenue range of Jabalpur district on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp. Commenting on these posts is also prohibited,” the order in Hindi read, adding that the curbs will be in force for two months.
Curbs on social media issued by Centre too
The Jabalpur order comes days after the Centre requested Twitter to censor 52 tweets that criticised India’s handling of the second surge of the Covid-19 pandemic. These tweets, which are now inaccessible to Indian users of the social media website, include posts by Revanth Reddy, a sitting Member of Parliament; Moloy Ghatak, a West Bengal state minister; actor Vineet Kumar Singh; and two filmmakers, Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das.
In response to MediaNama’s query a Twitter spokesperson had said, ” When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware that we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account.”
Similar action taken last year too
Last year, with the onset of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown, when a lot of misinformation about the pandemic had become abundant on social media platforms, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) had urged social media platforms “to take immediate action to disable/remove such content hosted on their platforms on a priority basis.”
In an advisory issued on March 20, 2020, MEITY noted that the circulation of misinformation regarding the coronavirus was creating panic among the public. It also asked social media companies to run awareness campaigns on their platforms so that users do not share misinformation about COVID-19, which is likely to disturb public order and social tranquility.