6k social media content takedown orders this year
- The government has already sent Twitter two non-compliance notices for failing to act against certain accounts in the last six months that had posted on the ongoing farmers’ agitation and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The number of orders issued by the central government to social media companies to take down posts and accounts under Section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, has seen a steep rise over the last couple of years, with nearly 6,000 orders issued until the first week of June this year, officials familiar with the matter told Hindustan Times.
The number, said officials, has gone up from being around 3,600 in 2019, to over 9,800 in 2020. The posts asked to be taken down have been spread out across social media companies, including prominent players like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
“The posts concerned various issues including the recent farmers’ agitation, Kashmir, Khalistan and the pandemic that could have been a threat to public order or violated section 69(A) of the IT Act,” an official familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity, adding, “The orders were sent to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Telegram. 99% of the orders have been complied with.”
Section 69(A) of the IT Act allows the government to act against social media posts and accounts that may pose a threat to public order or India’s sovereignty and integrity, defence of India, security of the State, and friendly relations with foreign states.
The order to block a post/account is issued by a designated officer appointed by the central government, who chairs an inter-ministerial committee comprising officials from the ministries of law and justice, home affairs, information and broadcasting and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In). The committee approves requests from different stakeholders, including states and central agencies, and also gives the intermediary a hearing. The designated officer at present is Pronab Mohanty, the deputy director general of UIDAI.
According to a reply filed by the ministry of electronics and information technology in Parliament on March 10, 9,849 URLs/accounts/web pages were blocked in 2020, up from 3,603 in 2019; 2,799 in 2018; and 1,385 in 2017. Of these, 1,717 orders were sent to Facebook and 2,731 to Twitter.
The government has already sent Twitter two non-compliance notices for failing to act against certain accounts in the last six months that had posted on the ongoing farmers’ agitation and the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year in June, the government invoked this very provision to block access to over 250 mobile applications, mostly of Chinese origin, including popular short video streaming platform TikTok and game PUBG in the wake of increased tensions with the People’s Republic of China.
In January this year, the government asked Twitter to take down content on the farmers’ agitation that carried a controversial hashtag regarding the Prime Minister, saying that it was a threat to public order. While Twitter withheld access to the posts, it refused to take down content by activists and journalists saying that it violated the tenets of free speech. A month later, as the impasse between the government and Twitter continued over the demand to block 257 accounts and posts related to farmers protests, the government asked the company to take over 1,178 accounts that may “foment trouble”.
In April, the central government issued emergency blocking orders to take down over 100 “inflammatory” posts and accounts across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram related to Covid-19, including an official Facebook page of Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The government faced pushback against the orders, which included blocking access to accounts of Congress’ Pawan Khera, Revanth Reddy, TMC’s Moloy Ghatak, a West Bengal state minister and filmmaker Vinod Kapri, with many arguing that the posts ordered to be blocked were critical of the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.
Apar Gupta, Internet Freedom Foundation trustee, said that the trends are related to the increase in the number of internet connections and rising online advocacy of subjects concerning citizenship laws and farm laws. “With respect to the examining committee, these orders earlier were restricted to specific posts to social media. But now some of these orders also require accounts to be blocked,” Gupta said. “ The continuing practice of lack of transparency and secrecy continues to be a problem.”