Several tweets deriding the death of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat were blocked in India by Twitter in response to a legal request sent by the Government of India claiming violation of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
MediaNama has seen public disclosures of the orders made available by Twitter to the Lumen Database. The website receives and publishes disclosures from private entities, including social media companies, of legal takedown notices they get from governments and private entities all over the world.
A general reading of the tweets and the accounts from which they were posted indicated that it was of Pakistani origin. In many tweets that are unable for viewing in India, Rawat was blamed for violence in Kashmir. It is important to note that these tweets can still be viewed by simply changing the location settings on Twitter. Although it was not mentioned which ministry sent the legal request on December 15, it has generally been the work of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) in the past.
When asked for comments regarding the matter, a Twitter spokesperson redirected MediaNama to its “About country withheld content” policy. No other explanation was provided.
The lack of transparency when it comes to takedown requests issued by the Indian government signals that the online space for exercising fundamental rights such as freedom of speech is shrinking.
Social media posts on General Rawat’s death also led to arrests
Soon after the death of General Rawat in a chopper crash, several people faced action for their social media posts and messages on the incident.
- Rajasthan: Two people were booked for allegedly posting offensive material on Facebook about the Army chopper crash that led to General Rawat’s demise, while another was arrested for their remarks on Instagram.
- Jammu and Kashmir: One man was arrested in Jammu for allegedly forwarding a post on Facebook with ‘derogatory’ remarks against General Rawat and an employee of Jammu and Kashmir Bank was suspended for ‘laugh’ reacting to a Facebook post on General Rawat’s death.
- Tamil Nadu: A YouTuber was arrested for tweeting that General Rawat’s death was the result of a conspiracy, and attacking the state’s ruling party for mocking the defence chief’s death and encouraging separatist politics.
- Gujarat: Two people were arrested over allegedly offensive Facebook comments and posts about General Rawat’s death.
- Madhya Pradesh: A man was arrested for allegedly making derogatory remarks against General Rawat on Facebook.
- Karnataka: Two people were booked for allegedly posting derogatory remarks on Facebook about Rawat’s death, the report mentioned.
Twitter recently censored accounts that tweeted pro-secessionist views on Punjab, Kashmir
Around 24 tweets and accounts that put up pro-secessionist content pertaining to Kashmir and Punjab were withheld in India by Twitter as it complied with legal requests made by Indian authorities under the IT Act on July 22. Some of the accounts that were withheld criticised India’s handling of the Kashmir situation. A few tweets made in the context of the Sulli Deals controversy were also withheld.
This content, which is now inaccessible to Indian users, includes the accounts of —
- Carin Jodha Fischer, a German national who was deported from India in 2016
- Kashmir University’s Students’ Union which has been inactive since 2019
- Tweets of Pakistani nationals who have used hashtags that blame Indian authorities for violence in Jammu and Kashmir, among others.
Indian government requests to social media platforms on the rise
Global data from transparency reports by social media platforms has shown that requests for information from India, about user accounts, are steadily increasing.
In November, Meta said that it received 45,275 information requests in the first half of 2021, second only to the United States of America. This was a 12% increase from data reported over the second half of 2020, and Meta complied with over 50% of these requests.
In July, Twitter said that it received the highest number of information requests from India in the second half of 2020. A 38% rise in the number of requests was reported (as compared to the first half of 2020) but Twitter complied with only 1% of these requests.
India’s Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021 has provisions for social media intermediaries to provide information to government agencies. The Rules require intermediaries to provide information for verification of identity or assist any government agency for crime prevention and investigations no later than 72 hours after receiving a lawful order.
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- What we know about the Indian govt FAQs on the controversial IT Rules
- How many Indian govt information requests did Twitter comply with?
- Summary: Information Technology Rules 2021, and Intermediaries and social media platforms
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