Monday January 17, 2022

India farmer protests: Twitter under fire for allegedly restricting access to coverage

Twitter shows message saying accounts 'withheld in India in response to a legal demand'

By Web Desk
February 01, 2021
AFP/Olivier Douliery/Files

KARACHI: Amid the ongoing farmer protests in India, Twitter came under fire on Monday for allegedly restricting access to the coverage of the movement by various people on the micro-blogging platform, reportedly at the behest of the Narendra Modi government.

Twitter later lifted the restrictions it had allegedly placed on the coverage of India's growing and controversial farmer protests, according to a local fact-checker who initially reported the development.

"All the accounts are back," Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of and fact-checker at Alt News, wrote Monday evening.

Access to major Twitter accounts — including those of publications, actors, and left-wing politicians — was blocked early Monday evening without any announcement or intimation from the tech giant, with Zubair saying at least 16 pages reporting on and covering the farmer protests in India were restricted.

Zubair said these accounts included politics and culture magazine The Caravan, 48-year-old Indian actor Sushant Singh (not to be confused with the late Sushant Singh Rajput), Muslim activist Asif Khan, writer Hansraj Meena, parody account @EpicRoflDon, Tractor To Twitter campaign, Kisan Ekta Morcha movement, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and Delhi lawmaker Jarnail Singh, AAP executive member Preeti Sharma Menon, AAM social media team member Aarti, Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Puducherry, CPI (M) leader Md Salim, columnist Sanjukta Basu, @jatt_junction, Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta) in Ugrahan, and broadcasting company Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati.

Screenshots of the accounts that had their access restricted indicated a message from Twitter saying they were withheld "in India in response to a legal demand". They are, however, accessible from Pakistan.

People were quick to react to the development, tagging Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Twitter Safety, Twitter's director of policy for India, Mahima Kaul, and the micro-blogging platform's global head for policy, strategy, and development, Nick Pickles.

'Modi running India to the ground'

'At the behest of the Indian government'

'This is appalling'

Twitter's 'conscience'

'Unaccountable big tech platforms'

'Dozens of Twitter accounts'

Twitter 'aiding an authoritarian regime'

'What's going on?'

Buzzfeed tech correspondent Pranav Dixit tweeted that a Twitter spokesperson "declined to speak to me on record despite multiple requests for more transparency".

Transparency 'vital to protecting freedom of expression'

However, it issued a statement, citing different countries' laws and saying if it received "a properly scoped request from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time".

"Transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing so e.g. if we receive a court order under seal)," Twitter added.