Twitter explains why it didn't take action on some handles despite Centre's push
Microblogging platform Twitter on Wednesday said it has acted on several blocking requests from the government in the past 10 days but it has not taken any action on news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians as it believes that doing so "would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law". "We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021. We will continue to maintain dialogue with the Indian government and respectfully engage with them," it said in its blog post.
The detailed statement comes amid reports of growing animosity between the Centre and Twitter after the social media platform has been accused of sitting on the government's order for a day when the Centre asked it to block over 250 handles. It was reported that a day after Centre's order, Twitter blocked those handles only for a few hours. The Centre has also warned Twitter of penal actions.
Amid the ongoing tussle, Twitter officials have sought to meet IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad citing concerns regarding the safety of its employees.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Twitter voiced concerns over threats to free speech across the world. "The values that underpin the Open Internet and free expression are increasingly under threat around the world. Following the reports of violence in New Delhi in recent weeks, we wanted to share a granular update on our proactive efforts to enforce our rules and defend our principles in India. Twitter exists to empower voices to be heard, and we continue to make improvements to our service so that everyone — no matter their views or perspective — feels safe participating in the public conversation," it wrote.
Beginning on January 26, Twitter's global team "provided 24/7 coverage and took enforcement action judiciously and impartially on content, trends, tweets and accounts...," Twitter said. Action was taken against hundreds of accounts for violating Twitter rules, it said. Certain terms were prevented from appearing in the trends section. Over 500 accounts have been suspended for engaging in "clear examples of platform manipulation and spam".
Listing out what it did to address the IT ministry's request, Twitter said it took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content. Permanent suspension has been imposed on several accounts. On Wednesday, Twitter withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders within India only. "These accounts continue to be available outside of India," Twitter said.
"We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve. We are 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," it said.
The controversy revolves around farmers' protest which turned violent on Republic Day. Before farmers' march on January 26, Delhi Police flagged the issue of several Pakistan-based Twitter accounts spreading misinformation. Centre asked Twitter to block these accounts as those handles were found "inciting genocide". Some accounts were suspended, but some were restored after a few hours. following which the Centre nudged Twitter once again and warned of penal action.