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'We Disagree': X on Govt-Ordered Blocking Spree of Handles Amid Farmers' Protest

X's tussle with the Indian government can be traced back to when the platform was still known as Twitter.

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Following a spate of social media handles being blocked amid the ongoing farmers' protest, X (formerly Twitter) on Thursday, 22 February, acknowledged that it had received orders from the Indian government to "withhold" them.

"The Indian government has issued executive orders requiring X to act on specific accounts and posts, subject to potential penalties including significant fines and imprisonment," said X's Global Government Affairs team, adding that it will be complying with the orders "in India alone."

"However, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts," the Elon Musk-owned social media platform said.

While this is far from the first time that the Centre has requested accounts or posts on social media to be blocked, it is still noteworthy given the secrecy surrounding such government-issued blocking orders.

The Centre's blocking orders are strictly confidential, as per the Blocking Rules, 2009. This means that a user's account or posts can be taken down without saying exactly why.

"Due to legal restrictions, we are unable to publish the executive orders, but we believe that making them public is essential for transparency. This lack of disclosure can lead to a lack of accountability and arbitrary decision-making," X said.

Click here to read more about what the deplatformed X users and legal experts have to say.

'We Disagree': X on Govt-Ordered Blocking Spree of Handles Amid Farmers' Protest

  1. 1. What If X Doesn't Comply With the Centre's Orders?

    The platform could be in serious trouble if it doesn't comply with the government's request to take action against certain accounts or content.

    "The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine," Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000, reads.

    Furthermore, the government could also revoke X's safe harbour that is granted under Section 79 of the IT Act and protects intermediaries from being held responsible for "any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted” on its platform.

    X's tussle with the Indian government can be traced back to when the platform was still known as Twitter.

    In 2021, the Delhi Police "visited" Twitter's offices in the national capital shortly after the platform tagged multiple tweets by BJP leaders as "manipulated media".

    The platform's safe harbour had also been thrown into question after then-IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had criticised Twitter for allegedly not complying with the controversial IT Rules, 2021.

    "There are numerous queries arising as to whether Twitter is entitled to safe harbour provision. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May," Prasad had said.

    The rift between Twitter and the Indian government only intensified in the following months, to the point that the then-Twitter India head Manish Maheshwari was summoned by the UP Police for questioning in several cases.

    Tensions only briefly deescalated in 2022, when Twitter was finally held to be in compliance with the IT Rules after appointing a resident grievance-cum-chief compliance officer and a permanent nodal contact person in India – as required by law.

    Expand
  2. 2. What Can X Do Now?

    Agitations by farmers continue to be a flashpoint between X and the Indian government.

    In 2022, then-Twitter had dragged the Centre to the Karnataka High Court over government-issued orders to block accounts that were largely spreading information about the farmers' protest that year.

    It had also challenged the validity of the IT Ministry's orders asking it to take down tweets criticising the Centre's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    However, X suffered a major setback last year when the Karnataka High Court dismissed its legal challenge of the government's takedown orders, ruling that they were in accordance with Section 69A of the IT Act.

    The social media platform has appealed the 2023 ruling of the Karnataka High Court, where proceedings are ongoing in the matter.

    "Consistent with our position, a writ appeal challenging the Indian government's blocking orders remains pending. We have also provided the impacted users with notice of these actions in accordance with our policies," the platform said on Thursday.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What If X Doesn't Comply With the Centre's Orders?

The platform could be in serious trouble if it doesn't comply with the government's request to take action against certain accounts or content.

"The intermediary who fails to comply with the direction issued under sub-section (1) shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine," Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000, reads.

Furthermore, the government could also revoke X's safe harbour that is granted under Section 79 of the IT Act and protects intermediaries from being held responsible for "any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted” on its platform.

X's tussle with the Indian government can be traced back to when the platform was still known as Twitter.

In 2021, the Delhi Police "visited" Twitter's offices in the national capital shortly after the platform tagged multiple tweets by BJP leaders as "manipulated media".

The platform's safe harbour had also been thrown into question after then-IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had criticised Twitter for allegedly not complying with the controversial IT Rules, 2021.

"There are numerous queries arising as to whether Twitter is entitled to safe harbour provision. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May," Prasad had said.

The rift between Twitter and the Indian government only intensified in the following months, to the point that the then-Twitter India head Manish Maheshwari was summoned by the UP Police for questioning in several cases.

Tensions only briefly deescalated in 2022, when Twitter was finally held to be in compliance with the IT Rules after appointing a resident grievance-cum-chief compliance officer and a permanent nodal contact person in India – as required by law.

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What Can X Do Now?

Agitations by farmers continue to be a flashpoint between X and the Indian government.

In 2022, then-Twitter had dragged the Centre to the Karnataka High Court over government-issued orders to block accounts that were largely spreading information about the farmers' protest that year.

It had also challenged the validity of the IT Ministry's orders asking it to take down tweets criticising the Centre's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, X suffered a major setback last year when the Karnataka High Court dismissed its legal challenge of the government's takedown orders, ruling that they were in accordance with Section 69A of the IT Act.

The social media platform has appealed the 2023 ruling of the Karnataka High Court, where proceedings are ongoing in the matter.

"Consistent with our position, a writ appeal challenging the Indian government's blocking orders remains pending. We have also provided the impacted users with notice of these actions in accordance with our policies," the platform said on Thursday.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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