Govt Slams ‘Unwilling’ Twitter in Meeting; Brings up ‘Toolkit’

Govt officials slammed Twitter for “unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay” complying with parts of the order.

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Govt officials slammed Twitter for “unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay” complying with parts of the order.
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Amid escalating tensions between the government and Twitter, the Union Electronics & IT Ministry (MeitY), in a virtual meeting with top officials of the social media company on Wednesday, 10 February, expressed strong displeasure in the way Twitter has pushed back against demands to block over 1,400 accounts related to the farmers’ protests.

According to a press release by the government late on Wednesday, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary, MeitY, held a meeting with Monique Meche, Vice President Global Public Policy and Jim Baker, Deputy General Counsel and Vice President Legal, and stated that “lawfully passed orders are binding on any business entity” and “they must be obeyed immediately.”

Sawhney expressed his disappointment to the leadership team about the manner in which “Twitter has unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay complied with the substantial parts of the order,” the Ministry’s statement mentioned.

Earlier on Wednesday, the social media giant, in response to the blocking orders by the government against 1,400 accounts related to the ongoing farmers’ protests, had stated in a blog that it had “withheld a portion of the accounts” but “within India only.”

Explaining in its blog that it does not believe that the actions it has been directed to take by the government are consistent with Indian law, Twitter said it has “not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians.”

In a response that indicated the government’s displeasure over Twitter’s blog, the Union Electeonics & IT Ministry stated in a tweet (and Koo) on Wednesday afternoon that the blog was “unusual” given the Ministry’s secretary was scheduled to meet with platform’s officials later in the day.

‘Toolkit’ Used for Campaign Against India: MeitY

According to the press release, Sawney also mentioned to the executives that revelations around the “Toolkit” shared by activist Greta Thunberg “has made it evident that a strong social media campaign was planned in a foreign country around farmers protest.”

Misuse of Twitter’s platform for execution of such campaigns designed to create disharmony and unrest in India is unacceptable and Twitter must take strong action against such well-coordinated campaigns against India, through compliance with the applicable law of the land.
MeitY Press Statement about meeting of Secretary IT with Twitter Inc team  

How Tensions Have Escalated

On 1 February, 257 accounts were ‘withheld because of a legal demand’ from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and remained unavailable in India for most of the day. They were subsequently restored by Twitter, which pushed back against the blocking in discussions with the government at a meeting on 1 February.

Following this, it was served with a non-compliance notice by the Union Electronics & IT Ministry.

Incensed by the restoration of these accounts, on Wednesday, 3 February, in a sternly-worded letter the Union Electronics and IT Ministry informed Twitter once again, “It may be noted that as per Indian law, with which Twitter is bound to comply, Twitter is an ‘intermediary’ as defined under Section 2[1][w] of the Information Technology Act.”

It also warned the social media paltform of legal consequences for not complying.

On Thursday, February 4, MeitY had shared a flagged list of 1,178 ‘Pak-based’ as well as ‘Khalistani’ accounts, operating from outside India for allegedly threatening public order amid the national outrage against farm bills. However, Twitter had pushed back against a wholesan takedown and said it was examining the orders.

Twitter, in its blog on 10 February, concluded by stating it “will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve.”

MeitY Compares Difference in Twitter Action on Capitol Hill & Red Fort

According to the press release, the MeitY secretary took up the issue of using a hashtag on ‘farmer genocide’ with Twitter executives and expressed strong displeasure in the way Twitter acted after an emergency order was issued to remove this hashtag and content related to that.

“Despite the attention of Twitter being drawn to such content by the Government through a lawful process, the platform  allowed the content with this hashtag to continue, which was extremely unfortunate,” the statement mentioned.

On 10 February, in its blog, Twitter had mentioned that beginning on 26 January 2021, its global team “provided 24/7 coverage and took enforcement action judiciously and impartially on content, Trends, Tweets, and accounts that were in violation of the Twitter Rules

The Secretary even compared Twitter’s actions following the armed insurrection at Capitol Hill in Washington DC on 6 January and disturbance in Red Fort in New Delhi on 26 January and its aftermath.

According to the statement, Sawhney expressed dissatisfaction over Twitter’s differential treatment in the two incidents.

“A deep sense of disappointment at seeing Twitter side not with ‘freedom of expression’ but rather with those who seek to abuse such freedom and provoke disturbance to public order, was conveyed to the Twitter representative.”

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