Twitter Calls on Indian Government to Respect Free Speech
Even before the coronavirus hit, Mr. Modi’s government and the B.J.P. had taken increasingly strong steps to curb dissent in the country of 1.4 billion.
In February, Twitter blocked over 500 accounts and removed an unspecified number of others in India after the government accused those accounts of making inflammatory remarks about Mr. Modi in connection with protests by angry farmers. The farmers have been camping outside New Delhi for at least six months to protest agriculture laws.
Twitter had earlier said it wouldn’t take any action against accounts that belonged to media organizations, journalists, activists or politicians, and that it did not believe the orders to block those accounts were “consistent with Indian law.”
But on Thursday, the company acknowledged it withheld some unverified accounts in those categories from view in India, even though it believed the content to be “legitimate free speech” under Indian and international law. The company said last week that it was reopening its verification process to allow government officials, media organizations, journalists and activists to apply for a blue check mark, a marker of credibility online, a process that has been on hold since 2017.
In April, Mr. Modi’s government ordered Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to take down dozens of social media posts that were critical of its handling of the pandemic. The order was aimed at roughly 100 posts from opposition politicians and included calls for Mr. Modi to resign.
The new internet rules in India apply to a wide variety of media, including digital news outlets, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and social media platforms, giving the government sweeping powers to quickly take down articles, posts or any other material. It specifically requires social media companies to appoint India-based executives who could be held criminally liable for any violations, as well as create systems to trace and identify the “first originator” of posts or messages that are deemed “offensive” by the government.
Under the regulations, announced in February, the social media companies were given a deadline, which was Tuesday, to name the executives who could be held liable.