Twitter under fire over deletion of critical Covid tweets in India

Guardian Technology 26 Apr 2021 09:17

The removal of dozens of tweets seen to be critical of the Indian government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is putting people’s health at risk and quashing dissent, according to lawmakers and human rights activists.

Twitter withheld some tweets after a legal request by the Indian government, a company spokesperson told Reuters on Saturday. These included tweets from a lawmaker, a minister in the state of West Bengal, and a film-maker.

“Suppression of information and criticism of government is not only dangerous for India but it is putting people around the world at risk,” said Mirza Saaib Beg, a lawyer whose tweets were among those withheld.

“Freedom of inquiry is an intrinsic part of freedom of speech and expression. These restrictions are further reflective of the weakening of all institutional spaces in India,” said Beg, who is studying at the University of Oxford.

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India’s ministry for information technology did not respond to a request for comment.

The country’s confirmed new coronavirus infections hit a record peak for a fifth day on Monday, rising to about 353,000 cases.

“Questioning the government of India’s decision to allow mass gatherings … where people from all across the country gathered and violated Covid safety protocols … cannot be called to be violating any laws of the country,” said Pawan Khera, a spokesman for the opposition Congress party, whose tweets were also withheld.

Requests from the government are reviewed under Twitter’s rules and the local law, a spokeswoman for Twitter told Reuters.

There is a “lack of transparency” in the government’s order, said the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights group in Delhi. “What is clear is there are more directions being issued across social media platforms in India,” it said in a statement.

In its most recent transparency report for the six months to June 30, 2020, Twitter said it had received 42,220 legal demands to remove content from 53 countries, with most of the requests coming from five countries including Russia, India and Turkey.

Twitter did not fully comply with the government order to take down more than 1,100 accounts and posts, saying it had not blocked all of the content because it believed the directives were not in line with Indian laws.

“We all would prefer free spaces to objectively critique power in the offline as well as online space. However, both spaces are increasingly shrinking,” Beg told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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IndiaIndian governmentTwitterMirza Saaib Begministry for information technology
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