Twitter blocks some accounts, Modi govt unhappy

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February 11, 2021 5:31 AM

The notice also made it clear that Twitter is an intermediary and is bound by the laws which govern such platforms and therefore cannot adjudicate on its own.

In a blog post, Twitter said that it will continue to support the right to free expression of its users; it added it is actively exploring options under Indian law both for Twitter and the accounts that have been impacted.In a blog post, Twitter said that it will continue to support the right to free expression of its users; it added it is actively exploring options under Indian law both for Twitter and the accounts that have been impacted.

The stand-off between Twitter and the government continues with the microblogging platform saying on Wednesday it had complied in part with the government’s directive by suspending 500 accounts flagged by MeitY and blocking access to several others within India. Twitter, however, said it has not blocked handles of civil society activists, politicians and media as “it would violate their fundamental right to free expression” guaranteed by the country’s law. In a blog post, Twitter said that it will continue to support the right to free expression of its users; it added it is actively exploring options under Indian law both for Twitter and the accounts that have been impacted.

Legal experts believe the matter is headed to court as Twitter being an intermediary is bound by the law of the land and cannot interpret freedom of speech and expression on its own. “If every intermediary starts interpreting the law on its own, then there would be chaos,” cyber law expert, Pawan Duggal told FE. According to Duggal, Section 69A of the IT Act gives government supreme powers to interpret law and order, security, sovereignty, etc of the nation and, based on its views, it can issue directions to intermediaries, who are bound to follow them. “If any intermediary has a problem, it can approach the court, that’s the only way out. Let the court decide whether the law is right or not,” Duggal said.

MeitY (ministry of electronics and information technology) tweeted a cold and surprised response to the Twitter’s post. “Upon the request of Twitter seeking a meeting with the government, the secretary IT was to engage with senior management of Twitter. In this light a blog post published prior to this engagement is unusual. Government will share its response soon,” it tweeted. While Twitter executives had sought a meeting with communications and IT minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister is understood to have asked them to meet the IT secretary.

Clarifying its stance on Wednesday, Twitter in a blog post said it had taken steps to reduce visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content that included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended Search terms. It said that it has informed MeitY of its enforcement action.”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. It, however, did not provide details of the handles against whom action had been taken.

The government had on January 31 asked Twitter to suspend hashtags/accounts/tweets that were sharing misinformation and provocative content around the ongoing farmers’ agitation. Twitter had on February 1, blocked around 257 URLs/accounts/tweets which were using hashtag “ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide. However, it blocked the handles for a few minutes only restoring them on the grounds that under its content policy the accounts and contents constituted free speech.

Taking strong exception, the government on February 3, issued a strongly-worded notice. It asserted that if Twitter failed to suspend hashtags/accounts/tweets, as directed under the provisions of Section 69A of the IT Act, it stood to lose the immunity that intermediaries enjoyed and would face penal action. Punishment for non-compliance in such cases is imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and a possible fine.

The notice also made it clear that Twitter is an intermediary and is bound by the laws which govern such platforms and therefore cannot adjudicate on its own.

On February 4, the government directed Twitter to take down 1,178 accounts with links to Pakistan and Khalistan supporters that were spreading misinformation and provocative content related to farmers’ protest. In all, Twitter has taken action against over 1,000 accounts — 500 as sought by the government and an equal number that were found by the company to be engaging in platform manipulation and spam.

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