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After tweet, Instagram video of Rahul Gandhi also taken down citing violation of platform’s policies

Facebook’s action against Rahul Gandhi’s post comes after it was issued a notice by India’s child rights body which has sent several notices to Twitter as well on the same issue. 

After Twitter temporarily suspended Rahul Gandhi’s account last week, on August 20, Facebook removed Gandhi’s post from Instagram containing his video with the parents of a 9-year-old girl who was allegedly raped and killed in New Delhi. A company spokesperson confirmed the same to MediaNama and said that the action to remove the content was taken as it was in violation of their policies.

MediaNama had earlier reported that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had written to both Facebook and Twitter to remove the former Congress President’s picture from their platforms. Citing a violation of its policies, Twitter had subsequently locked Gandhi and several others’ accounts last week.

Political censorship has been a tricky area for social media platforms, with the Indian government, in a previous incident, reportedly threatening Twitter employees with imprisonment when it had refused to takedown certain accounts related to violence around the Red Fort on January 26.

Justification and action taken by Facebook

On August 17, Facebook reportedly wrote an email to Gandhi asking him to delete the Instagram post.

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“According to NCPCR’s August 10, 2021 notice, a post you uploaded through your Instagram account, is unlawful under Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015; Section 23 of the POCSO, 2012; and Section 288A of the Indian Penal Code. In accordance with NCPCR’s notice, you are requested to remove this post expeditiously.”— the email said.

This took place a week after the NCPCR’s first notice to Facebook to remove the post. A Facebook spokesperson also referred to the victim’s kin’s plea in court for protection,  saying that it removed Gandhi’s post ‘to maintain the dignity of the victim’.

NCPCR’s notices on the matter

To Facebook

August 10: The NCPCR issues notice to Facebook, according to the Times of India, to take ‘appropriate action’ against Gandhi’s Instagram profile and remove his video. It alleges that he has violated sections of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, and the Indian Penal Code.

August 13:  The NCPCR issues second notice to Facebook on August 13 ‘with a stern warning and a direction’ to appear before it through video-conferencing on August 17, according to TOI. However, Facebook responds and later issues notice to Rahul Gandhi to remove the video following which it was exempted from appearing before the commission.

To Twitter

August 4: The child rights body sent four notices to Twitter’s asking the platform to censor tweets by Rahul Gandhi and Congress politicians. In a letter sent by the commission, viewed by MediaNama, it also cites precedents laid down in two judgements.

One was the Supreme Court judgement in Nipun Saxena v. Union of India, where the court held in 2019 that:

  1. No person can print or publish in print, electronic, social media, etc. the name of the victim or even in a remote manner disclose any facts which can lead to the victim being identified and which should make her identity known to the public at large.
  2. In cases where the victim is dead or of unsound mind the name of the victim or her identity should not be disclosed even under the authorisation of the next of the kin, unless circumstances justifying the disclosure of her identity exist, which shall be decided by the competent authority, which at present is the Sessions Judge. (emphasis supplied)

The other was a Bombay High Court judgement (it is unclear which one) where the court prohibited social media users from “publish[ing]/disclos[ing] information in such a manner that the victim will be identified directly or indirectly.”

Who has been censored?

While a Facebook spokesperson did not reveal if anybody else was censored along with Gandhi, MediaNama had earlier learned that tweets from the following Congress party officials and volunteers were censored by Twitter in India.

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  • Randeep Singh Surjewala, General Secretary, Indian National Congress
  • Gaurav Pandhi, National Coordinator, Digital Communications & Social Media, INC
  • KB Byju, part of Rahul Gandhi’s Team
  • Saurabh Rai, National Co-Coordinator, Digital Media, INC
  • Ruchira Chaturvedi, National Convenor of Social Media, INC
  • Hasiba Amin, National Convenor of Social Media, INC
  • Gourav Vallabh, National Spokesperson, Congress
  • Ajay Maken, AICC General Secretary
  • Ripun Bora, MP Rajya Sabha
  • Anil Chaudhary, President, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee
  • KC Venugopal, MP Rajya Sabha and General Secretary
  • Manickam Tagore, AICC in charge of Telangana
  • Sushmita Dev, Former Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
  • Rajani Patil, AICC In Charge, Jammu & Kashmir
  • Pranav Jha, AICC Secretary, in charge of Communications
  • Pawan Khera, National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress
  • Dr. A Chella Kumar, Lok Sabha MP from Krishnagiri
  • Balasaheb Thorat, Congress Legislature Party Leader, Maharashtra
  • Rohan Gupta, Chairman, Social Media Department, Indian National Congress
  • Roman D’Souza, Fellow, All India Professionals’ Congress
  • Vinod Soni, District Coordinator, INC (Babarpur)
  • Champak Shrimali, General Secretary Block Congress Committee, Palanpur, Gujarat
  • Nikhil Alva, Filmmaker, Musician, Writer
  • M Shashidhar Reddy, Chairman, Telangana Congress Covid-19 Task Force
  • Abhishek Dutt, National Media Panelist, INC
  • Digambar Kamat, Leader of Opposition, Goa Legislative Assembly
  • Samrat Dhingra, Punjab State Social Media Coordinator, INC
  • Sandeep Singh Rissam, General Secretary, Jammu & Kashmir Pradesh Youth Congress
  • Abhay Dubey, National Media Coordinator, AICC
  • Babulal Namdeo Bagul, Maharashtra Legislature Deputy Secretary (Retd.)
  • Mohd Asif Naqeeb, General Secretary, DCC
  • @MehulCongress, General Secretary, Ahmedabad City Congress IT Cell
  • Dr. Sirivella Prasad, AICC Secretary In Charge of Tamil Nadu
  • Nagaland Congress (@INCNagaland), Mumbai Congress (@INCMumbai), Maharashtra Congress (@INCMaharashtra), Gujarat Congress (@INCGujarat), and Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (@INCRajasthan)
  • Dr. Arvind Chaturvedi, District Spokesperson, Congress Amethi
  • Rajkumar Dubey, Goregaon (Mumbai) Social Media Taluka President
  • Chitra Batham, National Social Media Coordinator, Mahila Congress

Other cases of online political censorship in India

Beyond this case and the government’s request in January for censorship of certain Indian accounts, there have been other cases of political censorship in India as well.

February 11, 2021: Twitter blocks Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Chaudhary Sukhram Singh Yadav’s account in India in response to a legal request.

April 24, 2021: Twitter complies with government requests to censor 52 tweets that mostly criticised India’s handling of the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. These included tweets by Revanth Reddy, a sitting Member of Parliament, and Moloy Ghatak, a West Bengal state minister.

May 21, 2021: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology writes to Twitter to remove the manipulated media tag it had put on several BJP leaders’ tweets. It also asks for clarification on how its policy (regarding manipulated media) was applicable in this case.

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Written By

I cover health and education technology for MediaNama. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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

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