New Delhi: Twitter India Monday withheld several accounts, including those of Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, the English handle of news outlet The Caravan, actor Sushant Singh, Aam Aadmi Party social media team member Aarti Chadha, and farmers organisation Kisan Ekta Morcha.
A withheld Twitter account is no longer accessible to the account-holders, and their posts no longer visible to followers.
Reached for comment, a Twitter India spokesperson told ThePrint that accounts are withheld if “we receive a properly scoped request from an authorised entity”.
“Many countries have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time,” the spokesperson added.
News agency ANI quoted sources as saying that the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had directed Twitter to block “around 250 Tweets/Twitter accounts which were using ‘Modi Planning Farmer Genocide’ hashtag & making fake, intimidatory & provocative Tweets on Jan 30”.
The action, the sources added, was taken on the request of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and law-enforcement agencies to prevent any escalation amid the ongoing farmers’ protest. MHA sources confirmed as much to ThePrint.
Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) directed Twitter to block around 250 Tweets/Twitter accounts which were using 'Modi Planning Farmer Genocide' hashtag & making fake, intimidatory & provocative Tweets on Jan 30: Sources on Twitter Accounts being withheld pic.twitter.com/LIvZjbevRX
— ANI (@ANI) February 1, 2021
News agency PTI quoted sources as saying that “incitement to genocide is a grave threat to public order” and that’s why MeitY ordered blocking of these Twitter accounts and tweets under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. The section empowers the central government “to issue directions for blocking” public access to “any information through any computer resource” on certain grounds, such as in the interest of India’s sovereignty and integrity.
The Caravan‘s Executive Editor Vinod K. Jose and Editor Anant Nath are among the journalists who have been booked under multiple sections of the IPC for allegedly misleading the public with their tweets about a protester’s death during the violence on Republic Day. Recent tweets of the Kisan Ekta Morcha include allegations that many farmers remain missing since that day.
The other handles withheld are those of social activist Hansraj Meena, CPI(M) Puducherry (@pycpim), CPI(M) leader Mohammad Salim, and political commentators Sanjukta Basu and Mohammad Asif Khan.
Twitter handles @EpicRoflDon and @Tractor2twitr, which is a campaign to encourage people to support farmers protesting against the three new farm laws, have been withheld as well.
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) February 1, 2021
How an account is withheld
According to the rules on Twitter, accounts are withheld where content is found to violate local laws and/or is limited to the specific jurisdiction that has issued the demand, .i.e., the account can’t be accessed in India if the request is issued by the Indian government.
“Legal demands” for an account to be withheld can be made by a law enforcement agent, government official or any third-party that “would like to have potentially illegal content or accounts removed from Twitter”.
In its email response, the Twitter India spokesperson said “transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content”.
“Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing so e.g. if we receive a court order under seal),” the spokesperson added.
Users whose accounts have been withheld can appeal this decision by responding directly to the email sent by Twitter informing them of the measure, or by contacting the micro-blogging site through their Help Centre, the social media giant says.
This report has been updated with additional information