The government made 657 legal demands for content removal in this time, flagging 2,228 Twitter accounts—of these, 95 accounts were suspended and 114 tweets were withheld.
Social media in India has largely been left free of censorship so far. However, things could be changing fast. The Hindu reports that government demands for content removal from Twitter were the fourth highest in the world between June and December 2018. The government made 657 legal demands for content removal in this time, flagging 2,228 Twitter accounts—of these, 95 accounts were suspended and 114 tweets were withheld. While the absolute numbers may seem small, they represent a 100-fold growth from the same period five years ago. Although a recurrent phenomenon, social media censorship is now being carried out with unprecedented opaqueness. For instance, while the standard procedure on receiving a demand for blocking an account or deleting a tweet is to send an email notice to the affected user, Twitter said that it does not send any such notification if it is so asked by the party requesting the withdrawal—the company did not specify if the Indian government had ever prohibited it from doing so. Moreover, notifications, when provided, often don’t specify the violation the user is accused of, or even who the plaintiff is. Shadow-banning, or restricting the visibility of a specific user or their post, is also part of Twitter’s opaque censorship practices.
While Twitter and other social media have claimed to be platforms—earlier this year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had said, “people see Twitter as a public square, and therefore they have expectations that they would have of a public square”—such censorship is exercised by publishers. In which case, Twitter becomes liable for all that is published on it. Given how the lack of clarity allows both governments and Twitter to get away with arbitrary restrictions on fundamental freedoms, there is a need to get regulation right.