Farmers’ Protest: Centre orders Twitter to block 1,178 accounts for ‘spreading misinformation’

On 4 February, the IT ministry listed Twitter handles that were flagged by security agencies as ‘accounts of Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan and operating from foreign territories’

Farmers' Protest: Centre orders Twitter to block 1,178 accounts for 'spreading misinformation'

Representational image. Pixabay

New Delhi: The government has ordered Twitter to block 1,178 accounts allegedly with links to Pakistan and Khalistan supporters which were spreading misinformation and provocative content on farmers’ protest, sources said.

The IT Ministry, on 4 February, shared a list of the Twitter accounts that were flagged by security agencies “as accounts of Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan” and operating from foreign territories, and causing threat to public order amid the ongoing farmer stir, they said.

Many of these accounts were also automated bots that were used for sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative content on farmers’ protests, sources said adding that Twitter has not yet complied with the latest order.

Earlier, the government had ordered Twitter to take down handles and hashtags that suggested a farmer genocide was being planned, saying such misinformation and inflammatory content will incite passion, and impact public order.

It has also warned Twitter of penal action in case of failure to comply with its directive. Twitter had blocked those accounts for few hours before unilaterally unblocking them.

At that time, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had asked the microblogging site to block 257 URLs (web addresses) and one hashtag under the relevant provision of the law as they were “spreading misinformation about (farmer) protests and has the potential to lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country.”

Sources said while Twitter is yet to fully comply with the previous order, the government has issued another order asking the microblogging platform to block accounts backed by Pakistan and Khalistan supporters.

The IT Ministry’s displeasure is also apparent over Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently liking several tweets made by foreign-based celebrities in support of farmer protest.

Source said the move casts aspersions over neutrality claims of the platform, and defiance of government orders by Twitter raises several questions.

Moreover, sources argued that any company is free to appeal against any government order if it feels it cannot comply with that order.

Twitter has neither challenged any of these orders in any court of India nor complied with the government’s directive, they pointed out.

In an e-mail response, Twitter spokesperson said the platform is guided by principles of transparency and empowering the public conversation.

“If we receive a valid legal request about potentially illegal content on Twitter, we review it under both the Twitter rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter’s rules, the content will be removed from the service,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added: “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 the location only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account.”

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