Amid impasse, govt asks Twitter to take down 1,178 accounts

The directions were sent to the microblogging site at least three days ago; officials familiar with the matter said. “Similar kinds of accounts, as the 257 flagged earlier, were identified,” an official said
Representational image. (REUTERS)
Representational image. (REUTERS)
Published on Feb 08, 2021 10:15 AM IST
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ByHT Correspondent | Edited by Zara Khan

Amid the impasse between the government and Twitter over the demand to block 257 accounts with posts related to the farmers’ protests, the ministry of electronics and information technology has asked the company to take down over 1,178 accounts that may “foment trouble”.

The directions were sent to the microblogging site at least three days ago; officials familiar with the matter said. “Similar kinds of accounts, as the 257 flagged earlier, were identified,” an official said. “Some of these seem to bots, some propped by other countries. They all aim to foment trouble and unsettle the situation.”

The directions have been issued under the section 69 (A) of the IT Act that allows the government to take action against posts and accounts that may pose a threat to public order.

Hindustan Times could not independently verify if Twitter has taken action against the accounts yet. HT reached out to Twitter for a comment but did not receive one immediately.

Also Read | Congressional India Caucus takes up farm protests with Indian envoy

Twitter came under fire from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) for “violating Indian law” by not taking down tweets related to “farmers’ genocide”. Meity sent Twitter a sternly worded notice, threatening the company with penal consequences if over 250 accounts and posts that were flagged by the government weren’t blocked.

The firm, which blocked the accounts on Monday, restored them shortly after, stating that they constituted “free speech” and were “newsworthy”. The lifting of the local ban came in the backdrop of widespread outrage against Twitter for censoring free speech. The accounts are still accessible.

The official mentioned above stated that the government was keeping its options open. “The law is the law,” the official stated. “We have respect for democratic processes, so we are exercising restraint. We don’t want to take harsh measures.”

A second official stated that the accounts were flagged by security agencies as “accounts of Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan and operating from foreign territories and causing threat to public order in view of the ongoing farmers protests in some parts of India”.

“Many of these accounts were also automated bots that were used for sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative contents on farmers protests. However, Twitter has not yet complied with this order,” the official stated.

“It is also pertinent to note that a few days ago, CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey had liked several tweets made by foreign based celebrities in support of farmer protests,” the second official added. “In view of this, defiance of government orders by Twitter raises several questions. Further, Twitter has not yet challenged any of these orders in any court of India either. Logically any company is free to appeal against any government order if it feels it cannot comply with that order.”

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022