India’s Notice to Twitter: Social Media Giant Lists Action Taken, Underlines Free Speech

New Delhi: While the government said, a business entity working in India, Twitter “must respect” Indian laws and follow them “irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines”, Twitter said today it had withheld a portion of the accounts and within India only.

Twitter said on Wednesday it has taken action on more than 500 accounts and reduced visibility of some hashtags in India to comply with “several” orders from the Indian government after New Delhi threatened legal action against executives with the American social network.

Twitter had suspended hundreds of Twitter accounts, several with links to farmers’ protests on agricultural reforms, at the request of New Delhi early last week, but then reversed its decision within hours citing users’ freedom of speech. The company said on Wednesday that it was re-suspending most of those accounts, in some cases, permanently, and preventing certain terms from appearing in the Trends section.

The US social media giant also said it had not taken any action on accounts of media, journalists, activists and politicians as it violated “the right to freedom of expression under Indian law”.

The blog noted that the values that underpin the Open Internet and free expression “are increasingly under threat around the world”.  Twitter said following the reports of violence in Delhi during the Republic Day protest, it wanted to share a granular update on its “proactive efforts to enforce our rules and defend our principles in India”.

The government had asked Twitter to remove 1,178 listed handles that it said belonged to Pakistani and Khalistani users and were spreading misinformation on the farmer protests outside Delhi since November. The site informed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of its action today.

“We have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India,” Twitter said in a blog post.

“Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law,” it said.

“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,” it asserted.

“Two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law. After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice.”

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