Amidst India’s political chaos regarding the Farmers protest, the microblogging social media platform has suspended over 500 Indian accounts and reduced visibility of specific hashtags. Adhering to the government orders, Twitter confirmed that it has taken severe action against 500 accounts for violating Twitter rules. However, none of those accounts belong to news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians as that would curb their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.
The company said, “To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. We informed MeitY [Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology] of our enforcement actions today.”
The accounts are only suspended in India, which means they will be visible outside the country as the government’s orders are inconsistent with the local law.
The ongoing farmer’s protest has taken quite a severe turn in the past two months. Hundreds of thousands of farmers have gathered in a protest against the new farmers’ bill in New Delhi. While many support and many are against it, the citizens have been very vocal about it on Twitter.
Previously, Twitter suspended handles of several high-profile accounts such as The Caravan (a news outlet that conducts investigative journalism), political commentator Sanjukta Basu, activist Hansraj Meena, actor Sushant Singh, Shashi Shekhar Vempati, chief executive of state-run broadcasting agency Prasar Bharti, and at least two politicians with Aam Aadmi Party — Preeti Sharma Menon and Jarnail Singh — that governs the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
Twitter took the drastic step after many users were sharing false and intimidatory statements and provocative messages. However, Twitter lifted the suspension, after which the government gave a severe warning to the company under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which permits “punishment with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fines.” New Delhi said that Twitter could not “assume the role of a court and justify non-compliance” in India.
The company mentioned in a blog post that several accounts and hashtags violated the Twitter rules, provoking violence, abuse, and threats that could trigger offline harm. It further went on to say, “We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve and are actively exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow.”