India rebukes Twitter for not fully complying with government order

The Twitter app is uploaded to an iPhone in this illustrated photograph taken in Los Angeles, California.

Mike Blake | Reuters

India chided Twitter for failing to immediately comply with government orders to remove certain content and warned the social media giant that it must follow local laws to operate in the country.

Ajay Sawhney, secretary of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, met virtually with Twitter’s vice president for global public policy, Monique Meche, and deputy general counsel, Jim Baker, on Wednesday.

“The secretary expressed his deep disappointment to Twitter’s leadership for the manner in which Twitter has reluctantly, reluctantly and with great delay carried out the substantial parts of the order,” the government said in a statement after the meeting.

India ordered Twitter to remove more than 1,100 accounts and posts it alleges are spreading misinformation about farmers protesting against new agricultural reforms, Reuters reported.

Last month, reports said protesters clashed with authorities, resulting in hundreds of injuries and one death. Local media reported that authorities have brought charges against journalists and a high-profile opposition deputy for tweets about the death, but their arrests have been suspended, for now, by the Supreme Court.

(Secretary Sawhney) took this opportunity to remind Twitter that in India, its Constitution and laws are supreme.

Statement from the Government of India

In a public blog post Before Wednesday’s meeting, Twitter said it only partially complied with orders. Last week, the social networking site temporarily blocked some of the accounts at the behest of the government, but said it subsequently restored access “in a way that we believe is consistent with Indian law.”

The government statement said that New Delhi considers the hashtag “peasant genocide” to be incendiary and baseless, claiming that it was being used to spread misinformation about the protests.

He also characterized some of the accounts he wants to remove as “supported by Khalistan sympathizers and backed by Pakistan.” The government did not provide specific evidence for those claims in its statement.

“(Secretary Sawhney) took this opportunity to remind Twitter that in India, its Constitution and laws are supreme. It is expected that the responsible entities will not only reaffirm but remain committed to compliance with the land law,” added the release.

Twitter in its blog post explained that it took steps to reduce the visibility of hashtags containing harmful content and suspended more than 500 accounts that participated in “clear examples of platform manipulation and spam.”

Other accounts identified in the government blocking orders are not available in the country, but can be accessed from outside India. The company added that it does not believe that the actions it was ordered to take are consistent with Indian law and refused to restrict the accounts of journalists, activists and politicians.

“In accordance with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts consisting of media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians,” Twitter said in the blog post, adding: “To do so, we believe, would violate your fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”

The IT ministry secretary told Twitter that he is welcome to do business in India, but that he must still follow Indian laws regardless of the social media company’s own rules and guidelines, according to the government statement.

India is Twitter’s third-largest market behind the United States and Japan and had more than 17 million users in January, according to German data firm Statista.

The current confrontation against the government puts the US company in a bind in which it has to juggle between defending the right to free expression of its users and complying with local laws. Reuters reported that Twitter’s top lobbyist in India, Mahima Kaul, resigned as the company grapples with its growing public relations crisis.

Indian government officials, on the other hand, are promoting a local Twitter alternative called Koo App, and local media reported an increase in users on that site. The IT ministry promoted its own account on the new platform on Twitter.


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