On Wednesday, microblogging website Twitter put out a statement defending its actions of restoring some of the accounts it had withheld earlier this month, after being served with blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). The ministry responded through a tweet and over the new Indian microblogging app Koo that it found the company's statement ahead of the planned meeting with the government as 'unusual'.
Twitter's official response on this matter came a day after it expressed concerns over the safety of its staff in India, following the non-compliance of the government's request of continuing to withhold the accounts.
On February 1, several Twitter accounts tweeting and reporting on the ongoing farmers' protests in India were withheld from viewing. These included accounts of news magazine The Caravan, farmers' acitivist group Kisan Ekta Morcha, and other notable personalities like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Jarnail Singh, actor Sushant Singh, activist Sanjukta Basu, activist Hansraj Meena and Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati.
Following major outrage over the blocking of these accounts, Twitter restored some of these withheld accounts, and stated that the actions were taken in response to a legal request by the government. The website told government officials that the ban on these accounts were reversed to preserve free speech on the platform.
Few days later, the Centre issued a notice to Twitter India, warning it with penal action for its failure to comply with its January 31 order to block accounts that used the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmersGenocide. The blocking order had also mentioned some accounts that did not use the hashtag, such as The Caravan.
On Wednesday's official statement the company stated that it continues to withhold a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking order in India only, to comply with its Country Withheld Content policy. These accounts are therefore available for viewers outside the country. It also mentioned that the requests by the government to withhold accounts of news media, journalists, activists and politicians are not consistent with Indian law, and that such a request could violate their freedom of expression.
"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," the statement read.This is one of the first instances of the company taking a formal stand on its platform's use for dissemination of information on protests in India. "We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve. We are exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted," the statement added.
The government soon put out a response, stating that it found Twitter's blog post ahead of the meeting between Twitter senior management and the government as 'unusual'.
While Twitter is engaged with the Indian government on control over the content on the platform, the company is also currently in the lookout for a new Public Policy Director in India, with Mahima Kaul, the person holding this post for the past five years, resigning from the company. The company is also facing a looming threat of migration of its users into a new indigenous alternative Koo, which has already been populated by several politicians and ministries.
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