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Twitter blocks 50 tweets on UP Muslim man assault amid tussle with Modi govt over new IT rules

Twitter indicates it received a request from a law enforcement agency, but did not specify any details. Tweets relate to the 5 June assault of a Muslim man whose beard was chopped off.

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New Delhi: Twitter has blocked 50 tweets related to the assault of an elderly Muslim man in Loni after the Ghaziabad Police last week filed an FIR against the platform and some users for posts relating to the assault.

The action comes amid a tussle between the American social networking site and the Modi government over compliance with the new IT rules that were notified in February.

According to an email response to ThePrint’s queries, the tweets were blocked in response to a “valid legal demand”, but it remains unclear where the request came from.

The Ghaziabad Police had filed the FIR on 15 June. A day later, it was reported that Twitter would lose its ‘intermediary’ status, opening it up to action under the Indian law. By not complying with the new IT rules, a government source had said the social media platform could be penalised for “unlawful content” posted on it.

Three days later, on 18 June, the parliamentary standing committee on IT had told Twitter to comply with the new rules.

Twitter has now mostly blocked access to the tweets on the assault from unverified accounts.

A tweet from a verified account, that of Nadeem Javed, ex-chairman, AICC’s minority department, has also been blocked.

Originally posted in Hindi, Javed’s tweet when translated reads: “In view of the upcoming UP elections, an elderly man has become the victim of #Islamophobia. The assault and the chopping off of his beard is an attack on the idea of fraternity in Indian culture. We must band together to  overcome these anti-national, anti-social forces #Islamophobia_in_india.”

Javed’s tweet, like most of the other blocked tweets, featured a video of the elderly man being assaulted.

Meanwhile, Twitter India’s managing director has offered to join the Ghaziabad Police probe into the assault case since several videos relating to the incident have been circulating on social media.

Managing Director Manish Maheshwari, who lives in Bengaluru, was issued notice by the Ghaziabad Police on 17 June and asked to report at its Loni Border Police Station within seven days.

Maheshwari responded by offering to join the probe via a video call and assured of his cooperation, Superintendent of Police (Ghaziabad Rural) Iraj Raja told PTI.

Also read: More videos, with audio now, & handwritten complaint — new twists in Muslim man’s assault case

‘Withholding access to content in response to legal demand’

For now, Twitter has only blocked access to such tweets in India but not completely removed them from the platform. This means if a user changes the country setting on Twitter, the tweet would be visible.

Users in India though, are met with this notice: “This Tweet from @nadeeminc has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.

ThePrint had emailed Twitter several queries — how many tweets were blocked, whether the restriction was in response to a Government of India request or a law enforcement request, and when did Twitter restrict access to these tweets.

In response, an email, attributed to an unnamed Twitter spokesperson, said: “As explained in our Country Withheld Policy, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in response to a valid legal demand or when the content has been found to violate local law(s). The withholdings are limited to the specific jurisdiction/country where the content is determined to be illegal…The legal requests that we receive are detailed in the biannual Twitter Transparency Report, and requests to withhold content are published on Lumen.”

Lumen is a database project by Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. The Lumen project collects and analyses different kinds of “requests to remove material from the web”. These include removal requests that are “both legitimate and questionable” to educate the public and to facilitate research.

According to details in the Lumen database, the request to Twitter to take action on content had come from law enforcement on 17 June. On 21 June, Twitter had shared with Lumen database 50 tweets it had taken action on, but did not specify which law enforcement agency had requested the action.

Twitter has been facing heat from the government over certain terms listed under the new IT rules. Given its ‘significant’ intermediary status (any social media company with a user base of 50 lakh or more), Twitter was expected to appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer and a nodal contact person within three months. All three of these officers are legally required to reside in India. Last week, after receiving ‘one last notice‘, Twitter said it had appointed an interim chief compliance officer, and would share the details with the government.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: What Twitter, Facebook & social media firms could stand to lose if they miss IT Rules deadline


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