Twitter was allegedly ordered by the Indian government in 2021 to block 2020 tweets by Freedom House in India that reported the declining Internet freedom in the country. The social media company is said to have only enforced the order on Sunday. It also blocked some tweets and/ or handles of various other users who are said to be critical of the India government. Various users have shared screenshots of emails they received from the microblogging platform explaining that the content they shared has been blocked in India. Furthermore, some auxiliary accounts of users have shared screenshots which read that their accounts have been “withheld in India in response to a legal demand.” However, in some cases Twitter has not taken any action after a removal request from the Government of India.
The development was first reported by Entrackr, and the publication claimed that the content removal requests came in 24 batches but were disclosed (and apparently enforced) by Twitter on Sunday. It is to be noted that the content of accounts and handles that are blocked in India are visible in other countries. Gadgets 360 has reviewed the list of tweets that the Indian government ordered Twitter to block, citing Information Technology Act, 2000 as the reason for removal, via the Lumen database - which tracks removal requests for online content. Moreover, we reached out to Twitter for a statement on the move, and received this statement, "As explained in our Country Withheld Policy, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in response to a valid legal demand. The withholdings are limited to the specific jurisdiction/country where the content is determined to be illegal."
Specific content posted by the handles of Freedom House (@freedomhouse), which is a pro-democracy organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world, as per its bio, has been restricted in India. The tweets withheld in India include one that discussed the declining state of Internet freedom in India, part of the organisation's Freedom in the World 2021 report, the publication notes.
One of the withheld tweets by Freedom House included a link to a report which consisted of the names of countries (including India) that blocked people from websites as well as social media and its impact on curbing their access to information during Covid-19.
A user further highlighted that the Freedom House has taken down India's Democracy Score from its interactive database, retaining only Global Freedom and Internet Freedom scores. The claims have not been independently confirmed by Gadgets 360.
Certain content posted by handle of Pieter Friedrich (@FriedrichPieter), a journalist and expert on South Asia affairs, was also withheld. Separately, Rana Ayyub, a journalist associated with The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Time, New York Times, The Guardian, among other publications, posted a screenshot of an email she received from Twitter in which the platform has informed her that some content (or tweet) she posted via her account has been withheld in India under Information Technology Act, 2000.
The email clearly says that it is Twitter's policy to notify account holders in case they receive requests from authorised entities such as law enforcement or a government agency to remove content from their account.
Other than Ayyub, Furthermore, Twitter accounts of a Kuwaiti Lawyer who has Twitter handle @MJALSHRIKA, who has a history of speaking against the “atrocities on Indian Muslims”, CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) (via CJwerlemanshow) and @tTractor2twitr, which supported farmers movement (via) have been “withheld in India in response to a legal demand.”
Meanwhile, Twitter has also informed some users that they received a request from the Indian government regarding their account violating the laws of India but the company hasn't taken any action against them. Journalist Mohammed Zubair, who recently was in the news for sharing a clip in which ex-BJP leader Nupur Sharma allegedly passed some derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad in a debate, shared a screenshot in which Twitter clearly mentions that it has “not taken any action on the reported content at this time” because “it believed in defending and respecting the voice of our users.” Zubair was arrested last evening by Delhi Police for a 2018 tweet.
As per a 2021 report by Twitter, India was among the five countries which represented 95 percent of the total global volume of legal demands, which include a combination of court orders and other formal demands to remove content, from both governmental entities and lawyers representing individuals. India accounted for 11 percent of global legal demands, down from 18 percent in the previous reporting period.
Twitter reportedly saw a surge in government demands worldwide in 2020 to take down content posted by journalists and news outlets. India submitted most of the removal requests, followed by Turkey, Pakistan, and Russia.