Twitter refuses to block accounts on govt order, stresses on freedom of expression, govt finds it ‘unusual’

Twitter emphasised that it will continue to advocate for the right of free expression of its users and that it is actively exploring options under Indian law

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
user

NH Web Desk

Twitter, asked by Modi government to block 1,178 accounts for allegedly spreading misinformation on the farmer protests and provocative content, said on Wednesday that this blocking order was inconsistent with Indian law and that for some accounts, it would restrict access within India instead of an outright ban.

Twitter, through a blog post also conveyed to the Centre the action it has taken. It also noted that the values that underpin the Open Internet and free expression "are increasingly under threat around the world".

The government of India responded to this on "Koo" - pitched as Twitter's Indian rival. The government also called the blog "unusual" after the micro blogging site sought a meeting, with the government officials. The government said it would share its response soon.

"We have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India," Twitter said in the blog post.

"Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law," it said.

In response to this, Ministry of Information and Technology wrote on twitter, "Upon the request of Twitter seeking a meeting with the Govt., the Secretary IT was to engage with senior management of Twitter. In this light a blog post published prior to this engagement is unusual. Govt. will share its response soon."

The government had asked Twitter to remove 1,178 listed handles that it said belonged to Pakistani and Khalistani users and were spreading misinformation on the farmer protests outside Delhi since November.


The government said it had been trying to impress upon the social networking site that its concerns were genuine. "These accounts were shortlisted after security agencies flagged them. These accounts are of Khalistan sympathizers or are backed by Pakistan and they are operating from foreign territories, which have been shared with them," sources said.

Meanwhile, in its blog, Twitter said it existed to empower voices to be heard and continued to make improvements to its service so that everyone - no matter their views or perspective - felt safe participating in the public conversation. "We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve and are actively exploring options under Indian law - both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow," it asserted.

"Two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law. After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice."

Twitter said it took steps to reduce the visibility of hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms. It also said a range of action, including permanent suspension, was taken against more than 500 accounts escalated across all government orders.

In the row between the government and Twitter, several union ministers are setting up accounts in the rival made-in-India App "Koo" and asking people to follow them.

Here is the full text of the blog by Twitter:

We believe transparency is the foundation to promoting healthy public conversation on Twitter and to earn trust. It is critical that people understand our approach to content moderation and how we engage with governments around the world, and that we are transparent about the consequences and the results of this work. Our Transparency Report and Lumen continue to be the places to go to observe trends in the requests governments make of us, and to assess how we operate globally.

The values that underpin the Open Internet and free expression are increasingly under threat around the world. Following the reports of violence in New Delhi in recent weeks, we wanted to share a granular update on our proactive efforts to enforce our rules and defend our principles in India. Twitter exists to empower voices to be heard, and we continue to make improvements to our service so that everyone — no matter their views or perspective — feels safe participating in the public conversation.

Enforcement of the Twitter Rules

Beginning on 26 January 2021, our global team provided 24/7 coverage and took enforcement action judiciously and impartially on content, Trends, Tweets, and accounts that were in violation of the Twitter Rules — our global policy framework that governs every Tweet on the service. Specifically, we:

Legal requests from the Indian Government

Separate to our enforcement under the Twitter Rules, over the course of the last 10 days, Twitter has been served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law. After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice. To set the record straight, here is a list of actions we have taken as a result of these blocking orders:

  • We took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms.
  • We 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.
  • Separately, today, we have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India. Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021. We will continue to maintain dialogue with the Indian government and respectfully engage with them.

We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve. We are exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow.

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines


Published: 10 Feb 2021, 3:27 PM