A review of some of the tweets censored by Twitter – in the latest controversy the social media giant has found itself a part of – shows that they merely highlighted the COVID-19 crisis that India is dealing with.
On Saturday, 24 April, reports said that the micro-blogging website had censored over 50 tweets that criticised the Modi government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
A review of the tweets, now withheld from viewing within India, shows that most of them only highlighted the issues India is facing amid the deluge of COVID-19, and criticised the government’s handling of the crisis.
Twitter’s filings with the Lumen database, a Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Centre initiative, indicated that this request to block these tweets came from the Centre.
What Were the Tweets?
The tweets included hashtags calling for the resignation of PM Modi and others comparing the handling of the Tablighi Jamaat controversy in light of the recent Maha Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, which has resulted in more positive cases, further pressuring India’s already burdened healthcare infrastructure during the second wave of the COVID pandemic.
Medianama, a news portal that reports on matters pertaining to India’s tech policy, said that some of the posts that have now been censored included tweets by West Bengal state minister Moloy Ghatak. actor Vineet Kumar Singh, filmmakers Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das and sitting Member of Parliament Revanth Reddy.
Reddy had used a hashtag #ModiMadeDisaster to highlight how India had recorded a surge of over 2 lakh daily cases, resulting in the collapse of the healthcare system. This tweet is only visible to those outside of India.
While West Bengal state minister Moloy Ghatak had tweeted that India would “never forgive” PM Modi for playing down the seriousness of the pandemic, calling him ‘Nero’.
ABP News Editor Pankaj Jha had tweeted calling out the government’s double standards concerning treating the Tablighi Jamaat event and the Kumbh Mela since the latter was allowed to be held in the middle of the second wave.
Twitter user Pieter Friedrich, a freelance journalist and activist, confirmed on his social media account about receiving a notice from the micro-blogging company about his tweet.
Friedrich added in another tweet, “This was the final outcome. A ‘notice of withholding’ from Twitter informing me that Indians can no longer view my Tweet because showing the truth apparently hurts Modi's sentiments. Did you know Indian law allows the State to censor international Tweets it doesn't like?”
The tweet in concern, now has been “withheld in India in response to a legal demand”, the notice read.
In a now taken-down tweet, Congress party spokesperson Pawan Khera had shared visuals of the Kumbh Mela on his profile, and highlighted the “double standards” and how differently the election rallies and Kumbh Mela were handled, in stark comparison to the stigma around the Tablighi Jamaat controversy.
Khera filed a legal notice calling the censorship a violation of the fundamental right to free speech and called for Twitter to not be asked to take down such posts under the government’s instructions.
Misinformation, Says Twitter
While the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) is yet to comment on the matter, in response to a query regarding the now censored posts, a Twitter spokesperson told Medianama that they only remove COVID-19 misinformation, if it poses a threat.
The Wire reported that some of the tweets censored appear to have been spreading misinformation regarding the pandemic, having found at least one such tweet while reviewing them
“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both Twitter rules and local laws. If the content violates Twitter’s rules, the content will be removed from the service. 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 India only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware that we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account,” said Twitter.
Earlier in February, the Centre had issued several orders under Section 69A of the IT Act calling for several hundred handles on Twitter – and certain hash-tags – to be blocked. The government had demanded Twitter to take down posts during the farmers’ protests that carried the “baseless” and “incendiary” #farmergenocide hashtag.
(With inputs from Medianama)