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‘Singled out by govt’ — Twitter users could ‘jointly approach court’ as posts, handles blocked

Twitter ‘withheld’ more than 80 tweets and handles Sunday night after receiving orders from Union govt. Affected users include journalist Rana Ayyub and Sikh activist Amaan Bali.

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New Delhi: After Twitter blocked more than 80 links over the weekend, including tweets and accounts, some of the affected parties are considering seeking legal recourse. Prominent accounts affected include those of journalist Rana Ayyub, Sikh Kashmiri activist Amaan Bali, and two handles linked with the farmer unions’ coalition Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM).

The holders of ‘withheld’ accounts claim they were sent notices informing them that Twitter had taken the action to comply with “local laws” under the Information Technology Act 2000, but were not given specific reasons.

Speaking to ThePrint, Amaan Bali claimed that he and other account-holders have been “singled out” by the government because they have been challenging it. He said he is “in talks” with other account-holders.

“We may jointly approach the court,” he said, adding, however, that he was not sure how much this might help since ascertaining facts was difficult due to the “anonymity and ambiguity” of the complaints leading to the blocking of accounts.

Harinder Happy, a spokesperson for the SKM, also said they were thinking about approaching the courts, but until then intend to raise awareness about the allegedly “arbitrary actions” of the government.

Twitter says an account-withheld message means that the site “was compelled to withhold the entire account specified in response to a valid legal demand, such as a court order”.

Twitter’s policy states that it may be necessary to withhold accounts in case of a “valid and properly scoped request from an authorised entity. 

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (I&B) indicated that the government will be holding social media accounts and media houses accountable if they spread misinformation or disseminate content that jeopardises national security.

Also Read: Panel for appeals & deadline to remove content — govt proposes tweaks to close ‘gaps’ in IT rules

‘Legal recourse’

Two accounts — Kisan Ekta Morcha and Tractor2twitr — which were at the forefront of the protests against the three now-repealed farm laws are among those blocked by Twitter. With a collective following of about 5 lakh, these accounts also faced government censure and a Twitter ban last year for allegedly spreading “disinformation”.

Speaking to ThePrint, Harinder Happy said the account-holders were not given any warning or information other than a “random email” stating that they had violated the IT Act.

“These arbitrary actions by the government are indicative of their efforts to malign people who are critical of them and their policies. We are conducting discussions on how to embrace a legal recourse where we could at least understand the whole matter properly,” he said.

Amaan Bali, who is known for writing on “Sikh issues”, said he believed he was targeted not just because of his opinions, but because of his reach.

“My pieces did not sit right with not just this government but also the previous regime,” Bali said.

While he is considering going to court, Bali said he did not have high expectations of the judicial system.

“In the past these legal options did not help anyone… it becomes difficult to persevere through months of legal proceedings,” Bali said, adding that he planned to highlight “Sikh narratives” and amplify his voice on other platforms.

Twitter also sent a notice to Shashi Shekhar Vempati, the former CEO of the public broadcaster Prasar Bharati. His account had been briefly blocked last year too.

According to Vempati, his handle was “wrongly withheld” back then because he had tweeted about an “incendiary hashtag” seeking action from the government. The same tweets, he added, “appear” to have been blocked this time.

He said that he felt Twitter lacked the mechanism to differentiate between “the perpetrators and those who called attention to the perpetrators”. He said he has written to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) about the issue.

‘Overreach and abuse’ of IT Rules

Some digital rights activists and lawyers have blamed the controversial new IT Rules, notified last year, for social media crackdowns.

Siddharth Chandrashekhar, an advocate in the Bombay High Court, said the new rules put “several stringent compliance restrictions” on social media giants and gave the government “extensive powers” to deal with alleged non-compliance.

“The rules in the right hands can be a strong tool to shape social media. But it appears that there is overreach and abuse on the part of the government of the rules in the current circumstances,” he said.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also Read: Not just Modi govt’s tug-of-war with social media, balance of power shifting from users anyway



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