Twitter, upon orders from the Indian government, has taken down more than 50 tweets critical of the Indian government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a disclosure notice on the Lumen database, the Indian government sent Twitter an emergency order on Friday to censor 52 tweets, as first stated by Indian news site MediaNama. A sitting member of India’s Parliament, two filmmakers, an actress, and a West Bengal state minister are among those whose accounts have been censored.
A Twitter spokesperson earlier spoke to The Verge and said that if such tweets violate Indian law, the company can block them from being seen by Indians. Before withholding information, Twitter says it contacted account holders to inform them that the move was taken in response to a legal request from the Indian government.
“When we obtain a legitimate legal submission, we examine it in light of the Twitter Rules as well as local law. According to a Twitter spokesperson, “if the material breaches Twitter’s Rules, it will be deleted from the service.” “We may withhold access to the content in India only if it is decided to be illegal in a specific jurisdiction but not in violation of the Twitter Rules. We contact the account holder explicitly in all situations so that they are informed that we have issued a legal order concerning the account.”
Previously, during the farmer protests in February, the company permanently blocked over 500 accounts and made some inaccessible to Indians. According to the New York Times at the time, the Indian government sent a notice of noncompliance to Twitter, which could have resulted in prison time for Twitter workers in India if the company had refused. The Caravan, an Indian news paper, was among the accounts suspended in February (and later reinstated):
The publishing of content that the government finds defamatory or likely to cause violence is prohibited under Indian law. One of the tweets censored in India (but still visible outside the country) was this one from West Bengal state minister Moloy Ghatak, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Lumen notice.