Centre Asks Twitter to Block 1178 ‘Khalistani, Pak-Backed’ Handles

The Indian government has asked Twitter to remove 1,178 accounts that have ‘Pakistani & Khalistani’ users involved.

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The Indian government has asked Twitter to remove 1,178 accounts that have Pakistani and Khalistani users involved. Image used for representation. 
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The central government has allegedly asked social media platform Twitter to remove more than a thousand accounts for spreading misinformation and ‘anti-national’ content amid the ongoing farm protests, reported NDTV.

Sources have told NDTV that the Government of India has asked Twitter to remove as many as 1,178 accounts that have ‘Pakistani and Khalistani users’ involved.

On Monday, responding to a query by The Quint, a Twitter spokesperson said “our goal is to respect local law while protecting our foundational principles of  free expression,” adding, “if we receive a valid legal request about potentially illegal content on Twitter, we review it under the Twitter Rules and local law.”

The order comes amid a week-long face-off between Twitter and the government over content related to the farmers’ ongoing protests. According to ANI, Twitter is yet to comply with Monday’s order, adding to its push back against the blocking of accounts that the microblogging company has taken over the past week.

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.

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.”

The government’s letter also reveals that Twitter had asserted in its letter dated 1 February that ‘stock phrases and exaggerations /crude emotional appeals do not constitute inflammatory speech in light of the judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’.

Twitter’s Response to Feb 8 Order

Responding to queries about the latest order on Monday, 8 February, a company spokesperson explained that if the content is found to be in violation of Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service.

However, “if it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in the location only,” the spokesperson added.

“In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account. Our goal is to respect local law while protecting our foundational principles of  free expression.”
A Twitter spokesperson

On Thursday, February 4, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) had shared a flagged list of ‘Pak-based’ as well as ‘Khalistani’ accounts, operating from outside India for allegedly threatening public order amid the national outrage against farm bills.

"Many of these accounts were also automated bots that were used for sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative contents on farmers' protests,” the source added.

Jaishankar Concerned Over 'Toolkit' Tweet

This move comes after Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Saturday, 6 February, expressed concerns over the 'toolkit' tweet by Swedish Climate Activist Greta Thunberg, which is now being probed by the Delhi Police.

The minister said, as per ANI: "It revealed a lot. We have to see what else comes out.”

The outburst happened after American pop singer Rihanna took to Twitter, sharing the link to a CNN article, which spoke about the suspension of internet in areas of the national capital amid protests against the farm bills.

Accounts Withheld And Restored on 1 Feb

After nearly six hours of being withheld, over 250 Twitter accounts, including those of The Caravan, Kisan Ekta Morcha, CPI(M) leader Md Salim and several farmer leaders, came back to life on the evening of Monday.

At around 2:30 pm on Monday, following a spate of FIRs against journalists and news portals over their coverage of farmers’ protests, these Twitter accounts had been ‘withheld in India in response to a legal demand’.

News agency ANI, quoting sources, said the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) had directed Twitter to block around 250 tweets/Twitter accounts, which the government claimed were using #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag and were making fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets on 30 January.

In a response to The Quint’s query, a Twitter spokesperson said, “If we receive a properly scoped request from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”

(With inputs from NDTV.)

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