According to Twitter documents available on the Lumen database, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) asked the platform to remove around 85 Twitter accounts and tweets, including those which belonged to farmer activists, Pakistani news outlets, journalists, and opposition members.
The documents stated that these requests for blocking were made in 2021, under the Information Technology Act, 2000. Most of the Twitter links mentioned in the documents have been blocked, and any attempts at accessing them are met with a message that says that the tweet or account has been “withheld in India in response to a legal demand.”
Some of these blocks are not complete takedowns, but geo-blocks under Twitter’s Country Withheld policy, wherein access to certain content is restricted in a particular area.
There were two near-identical documents uploaded on the Lumen database, with almost the same accounts and tweets mentioned, but the Internet Freedom Foundation reports that there were some accounts that were mentioned in only one of the documents that haven’t yet been blocked.
Lumen is a Harvard University research project on legal removal requests and demands regarding online content. Companies like Google, Twitter, YouTube, and many others voluntarily submit takedown notices to the database, which can be accessed online.
Who Was Affected?
Many of the blocked links were of accounts and supporters of the farmer’s protests last year, including the Kisan Ekta Morcha and the Tractor to Twitter accounts. Multiple tweets by Freedom House, a US based non-profit, were also blocked.
These tweets, as accessed on online archive sites, were regarding online censorship by India and other countries during the pandemic, and the declining state of internet freedom worldwide, marking India as ‘partly free’.
Some other accounts blocked include Pakistani news networks like Baaghi TV, the accounts of the Pakistani embassies to Egypt, Iran, Turkey, the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the UN, and other Pakistani government accounts.
Twitter Has Refused the Govt Before
These blocks are in stark contrast to a statement put out by Twitter in February last year in response to account blocks requested by the government, where they mentioned, “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.”
These blocks also come in the backdrop of India’s signing of the 2022 Resilient Democracies Statement at the G7 summit on Monday, where leaders resolved to "protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline and ensuring a free and independent media landscape," as one of the points in the statement.
(With inputs from the Internet Freedom Foundation and the Mint)