Saturday, December 4, 2021

Anger as Indian govt forces Twitter to remove critical Covid posts

Twitter said if it had not done so, it could have meant prison for its employees in India.

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Social media users across India are outraged after the government ordered Twitter to remove posts critical of its handling of the virus.

A Twitter spokesman confirmed it had blocked some material from being viewed in India.

The country faces a massive surge in cases, with some hospitals running out of oxygen.

One Twitter user accused the government of “finding it easier to take down tweets than ensure oxygen supplies”.

The government made an emergency order to censor the tweets, Twitter revealed on Lumen, a database that keeps track of global government orders around online content.

Twitter did not specify which content it had taken down, but media reports say it includes a tweet from a politician in West Bengal holding Prime Minister Narendra Modi directly responsible for Covid-19 deaths, and from an actor criticising Modi for holding political rallies while the virus rampaged.

Twitter said it reviewed content when it received a “valid legal request” – in this case, the Indian government is said to have cited the Information Technology Act 2000.

“If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only,” the platform said.

An Indian official said the material in question was misleading or could spark panic.

“We cannot allow fake news that harms the country,” BJP national spokesman Gopal Agarwal told the BBC.

The crisis was being worsened by fake news, he explained, pointing out that social media content had to be in line with the rule of law.

An official of the electronics and IT minister had earlier told The Hindu newspaper that it was “necessary to take action against those who are misusing social media for unethical purposes”.

But on social media, many criticised the government for focusing on “censorship” while the country was in the midst of a “humanitarian disaster”.

Many online also criticised Twitter for complying with the order, calling them “complicit”.

Twitter has in the past been criticised for bowing to pressure from the Indian government. In February, it blocked hundreds of accounts linked to ongoing farmers’ protests.

Twitter said if it had not complied, it could have meant prison for its employees in India.

On Sunday, the prime minister said the second wave was a storm that had “shaken the nation” but that a “positive approach” was key to fighting the pandemic.

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