The Indian government has ordered Twitter to block dozens of tweets criticizing its handling of the pandemic amidst a recent surge in cases that have set a grim world record.
Reuters reported that a Twitter representative confirmed that the social media company had removed several tweets – including some by local lawmakers - in response to a legal request from the Indian government.
In a post on Harvard University’s Lumen database, Twitter revealed that the censorship was the result of an emergency government order. India's Information Technology has not thus far provided any comment on the claims.
The request mentioned by Lumen was made on 23rd April. India’s government reportedly invoked the Information Technology Act of 2000 to demand 21 tweets be taken down, including messages from lawmaker Reynath Reddy, West Bengal minister Moloy Ghatak, and filmmaker Avinash Das.
India’s government has previously used the IT Act to prevent the spread of information online in the interests of protecting the “sovereignty and integrity of India” as well as ensuring public order. One example occurred in June 2020, when the Act was invoked to ban a number of Chinese apps on the grounds that they threatened the "security of state and public order".
Twitter has not always complied with such requests. In February this year it notably refused to take down over 1,100 accounts that the government claimed were spreading misinformation over high profile protests by Indian farmers against new agriculture legislation. However, Reuters quoted an IT ministry source as saying that the majority of the accounts were eventually blocked.
In a statement regarding the recent request, Twitter said: “When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter's rules, the content will be removed from the service. 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 social media firm added that the relevant account holders had been informed that their messages would be blocked as a result of a legal order. According to technology news site TechCrunch, other social media platforms received similar orders from India’s government.
A devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections has resulted in a terrible death toll in India, with New Delhi a particular hotspot as its health system struggles to deal with the vast number of cases. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – as well as state governments – have come under fire for their perceived complacency and inadequate preparation for the disaster.
Across the winter, India appeared to have cases under control, with a relatively low average of around 10,000 daily. However, this resulted in authorities relaxing restrictions and allowing mass gatherings such as religious festivals and political rallies. India’s health minister has stated that such large-scale activities have played a major part in bringing about the current second wave.