Twitter has confirmed that they have complied with orders from the Indian government to remove dozens of posts critical of the State’s handling of the covid-19 pandemic on the basis that they are “fake news” and “misleading.”
As admitted by a Twitter spokesperson, the move comes at a time when India faces a massive surge in cases, with many of its hospitals facing an oxygen supply shortage, similar to the start of the covid-19 pandemic last February and March. India recorded over 350,000 new infections on Monday, and over 2,800 deaths.
Because of this surge, which some on Twitter have dubbed a “humanitarian disaster”, Twitter revealed that the Indian government made an emergency order to censor critical tweets on the basis that they are “fake news” and exacerbating the situation.
Though Twitter did not specify or reveal which tweets it had removed specifically, Indian media reports that one tweet from a politician in West Bengal was removed holding Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi responsible for covid deaths. It also included one from an Indian actor criticising Modi for holding political rallies while the virus was spreading.
According to Twitter, the request to remove the tweets was a “valid legal request” because the Indian government claimed they violated the 2000 Information Technology Act under Indian law.
“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,” Twitter said.
One Indian government official said that the posts in question were misleading and could unnecessarily spark panic.
“We cannot allow fake news that harms the country,” Gopal Agarwal, spokesperson for India’s ruling political party, adding that the crisis was being made worse by what he called “fake news.”
An official at the Indian Ministry of Electronics and IT told The Hindu newspaper that the government deemed it “necessary to take action against those who are misusing social media…for unethical purposes.”
However, many in India have been heavily critical of this move, with one Twitter user accused the government of “finding it easier to take down tweets than ensure oxygen supplies”.
He will sleep. Today he urging ppl to go n vote, finding it easier to take down tweets than ensure oxygen supplies !!!
— B Joseph (@joebmm) April 26, 2021
India is in the middle of a humanitarian disaster and Twitter preventing that from being shared is a moral failure https://t.co/gpn531ew0I
— nilay patel (@reckless) April 24, 2021
In February, Twitter deleted or blocked over 500 accounts on its platform linked to major farmer protests in opposition to agricultural laws after being ordered to remove the accounts by the government. If Twitter had failed to comply, the company’s employees based in India could have been imprisoned.