Earlier today, Twitter published quite an exhaustive blog seemingly setting the record straight on everything it had done to ensure its platform, accessed by hundreds of millions of people around the world, did not spread and amplify misinformation, in this case, around the ongoing farmers’ protest in India.
It was a carefully worded blog post, one where Twitter also highlighted its responsibility to bear the torch for an open internet and free expression, while keeping it safe from those engaged in propaganda, and peddling fake news. It was fighting a double fight. But then the government of India came up and called it, unusual. Here’s the full story in 10 points.
Transparency is the foundation for promoting healthy public conversation.
Following the reports of violence in recent weeks, we're sharing a granular update on our proactive efforts to enforce our rules and defend our principles in India: https://t.co/ry557Nj94U
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) February 10, 2021
- Twitter confirmed in its blog post that it had been asked by the government of India, on “several” separate occasions, to block an unspecified number of accounts/URLs/hashtags, over the course of the last 10 days.
- The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had handed over a list of 257 URLs and one hashtag, followed by another directive to block 1,178 accounts for allegedly spreading misinformation on farmers’ protest. The government had invoked its power under section 69A of the Information Technology Act to do this. Non-compliance would entail penal action.
- Due to the “emergency” nature of two of those blocking orders, Twitter had withheld several accounts including Kisan Ekta Morcha which meant these accounts became inaccessible in India – though you could still access them outside of India. This was only temporary though, as Twitter went on to restore these accounts within hours.
- In the blog post, Twitter said, it “restored access to this content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law.” Soon after, the platform was served with a non-compliance notice by the government.
- Twitter has since permanently suspended more than 500 accounts for violating its rules and withheld “a portion” of accounts flagged by MeitY for allegedly spreading misinformation on farmers’ protest. The latter, again, falls under Twitter’s ‘Country Withheld Content’ policy and applies within India only which means, withheld accounts will continue to be available outside of India.
- The reason why Twitter “withheld” these accounts was 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.”
- “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,” it said.
- Twitter further said it would continue to maintain dialogue with the government of India and engage with them.
- The government of India called Twitter’s blog post quite unusual saying, “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.”
- As a possible repercussion to this response, more and more ministers from the cabinet have moved to what is being referred to as India’s answer to Twitter for non-English users, aka Koo, giving the Aatmanirbhar Bharat app a big shot in the arm. Koo, which was launched in March 2020, had won the government’s app innovation challenge in social category last year.
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