Twitter ignores warning of legal action, snubs government on diktat to block accounts related to farmers’ protest

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In a huge development, Twitter India has refused to comply with the government diktat demanding the banning of more than 1100 accounts that it said belonged to Pakistani and Khalistani users and being used to allegedly spread misinformation on the farmer protests near Delhi since November last year. In a long blog post, Twitter said that whilst it had actions in limiting the reach of some accounts, it did not believe that the actions that it was directed to take ‘are consistent with Indian law.’

“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.”

The microblogging site had faced flak for its decision to withhold hundreds of accounts of journalists and activists earlier this month to comply with the government order. However, their accounts were restored within hours after global condemnation.

Twitter revealed for the first time what had prompted it to take punitive actions against those accounts. It said, “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.”

According to Twitter, it took a series of actions as a result of blocking orders by the government including ‘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,” it added.

Twitter also withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders by the Indian government under its Country Withheld Content policy within India only. “These accounts continue to be available outside of India,” it said.

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