The government told social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to control misinformation and content that could “disturb the public order,” the Economic Times reported. The advisory reportedly reminds social media companies that they are classified as intermediaries under the law, and instructs platforms to “initiate awareness campaigns” among users to not circulate “any false news or misinformation”.
The government has not made this advisory public. We have filed a Right To Information request for a copy of the advisory notice.
While the present advisory does not seem to advocate for more censorship of criticism directly, the government has, on at least two instances, tried to scrub social media of critical posts under the garb of misinformation and public order. During the farmer protests earlier this year, the government ordered Twitter to block multiple tweets and accounts that contained the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide. Rajya Sabha MP Sukhram Singh Yadav’s account was withheld as a result, and continues to be inaccessible to Twitter users in India, despite his bringing up the issue in Parliament.
Recent, the government used similar language when justifying the recent took down of over 50 tweets, some of which were critical of the government. An unnamed government official told NDTV that these posts “were not restricted due to criticism of its handling of the pandemic but for spreading fake news by posting old pictures to misinform and create panic.”
Twitter restored some other accounts, drawing the ire of the government, and the latter eventually relented to Twitter’s refusal to withhold accounts of prominent activists and journalists. Twitter hasn’t reported receiving any censorship orders from the government since April 27.