Image: Satish Acharya
Obeying, what seems to be the Government of India’s orders to curb any critique of its mishandling of ongoing Covid-19 crisis, Twitter has reportedly removed, or withheld over 50 tweets, many by activists and politicians, which have called out the way the government has let the crisis worsen. According to the news report that first broke on MediaNama, Twitter withheld the critical tweets after the legal request by the government.
This was also confirmed by a Twitter spokesperson to the international media over the weekend. The government sent Twitter an emergency order on Thursday to censor 52 tweets, according to a disclosure notice on the Lumen database which is a project by Harvard University. Twitter and Facebook complied with the request, and withheld those posts from users in India, stated news reports. The censored accounts include that of politicians by Revanth Reddy (MP); Moloy Ghatak, (West Bengal minister), Zia Nomani (activists and politician), Vinod Kapri (filmmaker), and others. According to MediaNama such orders are typically sent by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITy).
It reported that Twitter responded to a query thus: “When we receive a valid legal request, 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. 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 India only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware that we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account. We notify the user(s) by sending a message to the email address associated with the account(s), if available….”
However, even then, Twitter has not explained why any post that is critical of the government needs to be removed or curtailed anyway. The social media site has had thousands of such posts commenting on the way the Union government, and many state governments have failed to handle the Covid-19 crisis on an hourly basis. Twitter has also been the main platform where many are appealing for help, giving and responding to distress calls of Oxygen supplies running out in hospitals and localities, of Covid-19 patients stranded at home because ambulances are few, and cremation grounds operating full non stop, with more families arriving with bodies of loved ones and waiting. Critical comments are often on such tweets and bring attention to the crisis, sometimes it also brings the urgent help needed. Some compare the political repose or rather the lack of it.
According to The Verge the number of posts Twitter and Facebook have taken down may be around 100. According to the NYTimes, “The Indian government confirmed on Sunday that it ordered Facebook and Instagram and Twitter to take down posts that it deemed posed potential to incite panic among the public, hinder its efforts to contain the pandemic, or were simply misleading.”
CAPTION: A copy of government’s orders disclosed by Twitter as shared on Lumen database