Twitter accounts belonging to actor Sushant Singh and iScrew, an anonymous user who posts Gujarat-related COVID-19 information among others, were withheld on Wednesday after it received a legal demand. While Singh’s account was later restored today afternoon, the social media platform has still restricted Indian users’ from accessing @iScrew.
In his tweets, Singh (@sushant_says) has been critical of the Prime Minister and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The Age of Bananas (@iScrew) whose account was also blocked by Twitter, posted regular updates on COVID-19 situation in the state of Gujarat. MediaNama has reached out to Twitter for comments. Their responses are awaited.
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) May 25, 2021
No intimation by Twitter: Singh
In February, Singh said his account was blocked along with other accounts such as Kisan Ekta Morcha, @Tractor2Twir, Caravan and others in response to a legal notice from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). The accounts were later restored.
Singh told MediaNama that, “This time Twitter has simply complied with a legal demand. I take this (account withholding) as a badge of honour and would like to thank PM Narendra Modi for the same.” While the social media platform had informed him about the February block and told him that his account was withheld because the government objected to the usage of a particular hashtag deemed derogatory to the Prime Minister, Singh said that he had not received any intimation from Twitter via email about the latest instance.
It's bizarre! Shocking indeed! What was 'illegal' in @sushant_says tweets? He has been reaching out to people in extending support of every kind during pandemic. Or you join the regime in believing that questioning the government= questioning the nation! Restore @sushant_says
— Manoj Kumar Jha (@manojkjhadu) May 26, 2021
Until it was suspended on Wednesday, the last few tweets from The Age of Bananas indicate that the user had an inkling that their account was under the scanner. “Hello @amritat Hope you’re seeing what’s happening again to my handle,” the account tweeted at 2:55am on May 26. MediaNama was able to access tweets from the account by changing our location to a country other than India. Tweets from the account have been blocked from being viewed by Indian users’.
The account was earlier withheld in April. At the time time, it said “I have been reporting facts of #Covid19India from Gujarat with correct information and sources last few days. While many followers appreciate my tweets largely not reported by mainstream media, it has upset the Modi regime and they have been attempting to shut down my voice.”
“You all witnessed my account suspension last week. Twitter had to restore it as the reason was frivolous,” the account said in another tweet.
Similar action has been taken by Twitter in the past
Earlier, 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 Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT Cell head Amit Malviya for misinformation, just like it had done earlier for some of Trump’s tweets.
Back in April, Twitter complied with government requests to censor 52 tweets that mostly criticised the country’s handling of the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. These tweets, which are now inaccessible, 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.
These developments come at a time when Twitter is going through a legal ordeal with the Delhi Police and Central government. Twitter is fighting two battles at the same time: The first is related to a political fight between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress and the second, related to applicability of and compliance with the new Information Technology Rules 2021.