In a new twist, Twitter has taken down “90-95 per cent” of the accounts flagged by the Indian government for positing inflammatory content about the farmer protests, a government source told Business Standard.
“They have moved forward with substantive compliance. As per the latest orders, they have blocked 90-95 per cent of the accounts,” said the source, directly involved in the matter, requesting anonymity. Comment from Twitter was not in at the time of publishing this story.
The latest development comes after a virtual meeting between senior Twitter executives in the US and Indian officials, amid a weeks-long tussle where Twitter risks penal action.
It is not immediately clearly how many handles Twitter blocked. India had sought action against 1,435. A list of 257 accounts was submitted on January 30, followed by another of 1,178 on February 6. The details of the accounts has not been made public.
In a blogpost on February 10, Twitter said it took “a range of enforcement actions — including permanent suspension in certain cases — against more than 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s Rules.” Twitter also reduced the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, it had said.
One of the accounts blocked was of Sukhram Singh Yadav, a Rajya Sabha member and Samajwadi Party leader, policy news website Medianama pointed out on February 11. Handles of The Caravan magazine and independent farmer protest outfit Kisan Ekta Morcha – that were taken down on January 31 and later restored -- were live at the time of publishing of this report.
Some more accounts were banned in India, but were made available in other geographies, Twitter had said. It added, “We are exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted.”
Instead of clearing the air, the February 10 blogpost by Twitter infuriated the government as it came before the planned closed door meeting. Twitter wrote that it upholds free speech and will not take action against accounts that belong to journalists, activists and politicians.
Meity responded by tweeting that the blog was “unusual” as “Secretary IT was to engage with senior management of Twitter” upon the platform’s request. The tweet said the government will share its response soon.
What followed was a lengthy reply from the IT ministry saying that while Twitter is allowed to form and enforce its own policies, it must adhere to the law of the country.
“The partial compliance with the Meity orders, which called for several activists’ and journalists’ accounts to be blocked in India, represents an uneasy compromise between Twitter and the government. The government, for its part, demonstrated its uneasiness viscerally, comparing protesting farmers hoisting a Sikh flag at the Red Fort to the storming of the United States Capitol,” said a press release by Meity on February 11.
The government followed up with an active promotion of Koo, an India-made Twitter-like platform, and Minister of IT and Law, Ravi Shankar Prasad, addressing the issue in the parliament.