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Centre Turns Down Twitter's Dialogue Proposal; Company Cites Action Against 500 Accounts

A day after Twitter said it is seeking formal dialogue with govt after it ordered to take down 1,178 accounts, sources said its request has been turned down.

Twitter

A day after Twitter said it is seeking formal dialogue with the Information Technology Minister after the government ordered it to take down 1,178 accounts for allegedly spreading misinformation around farmers' protests, sources have told Republic Media Network that Ravi Shankar Prasad has turned down the social media platform's request. 

Sources said that the Indian government is very clear on its stand that hate content should not be allowed and that Twitter needs to set its own house in order first. 

Meanwhile, under pressure from the Centre, Twitter on Wednesday said it had now "withheld a portion of the accounts" identified by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) within India. In a blog post, it said that since January 26, the company took enforcement action judiciously and impartially on content, Trends, Tweets, and accounts that were in violation of the Twitter Rules.

Specifically, Twitter:

  • Took action on hundreds of accounts that violated the Twitter Rules, particularly inciting violence, abuse, wishes of harm, and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm
  • Prevented certain terms that violated our Rules from appearing in the Trends section
  • Suspended more than 500 accounts that were engaging in clear examples of platform manipulation and spam
  • Tackled misinformation based on the highest potential for real-world harm, and prioritized labelling of Tweets that were in violation of our synthetic and manipulated media policy. 

The blog post said that over the course of the last 10 days, "Twitter has been served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act."

"Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law. After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice," Twitter said.

Here is a list of actions Twitter has taken as a result of these blocking orders:

  • We took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms. 
  • We took a range of enforcement actions — including permanent suspension in certain cases — against more than 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s Rules. 
  • Separately, today, we have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India. Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021. We will continue to maintain a dialogue with the Indian government and respectfully engage with them. 

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The government, on February 4, had ordered Twitter to block 1,178 accounts with links to Pakistan and Khalistan supporters that were spreading misinformation and provocative content on farmers' protest. Previously, too, the government had ordered Twitter to take down handles and hashtags that suggested a farmer genocide was being planned, saying such misinformation and inflammatory content will incite passion, and impact public order.

It has also warned Twitter of penal action in case of failure to comply with its directive and had cited sections that provide for fine and jail for up to 7 years. Notably, Twitter's Public Policy Director for India and South Asia Mahima Kaul has quit, fuelling speculations about her departure amid the ongoing situation. However, the company has clarified that this was not the case.

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