There’s a lot happening between the Indian government and the popular microblogging site Twitter. It all started on January 31 following the chaotic farmers’ protest in the capital on January 26, India’s 72nd Republic Day. Soon after the protests turned ugly with the suspension of mobile internet across Delhi NCR, several international personalities like Rihanna, Mia Khalifa, and many others came out in support of Indian farmers on Twitter, which further hyped the entire situation. Also Read - Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey donates Rs 110 crores to help India fight COVID-19 second wave
Following these celebrities, hundreds and thousands of users in India took to the microblogging site to voice out their opinion related to the protest. These tweets, of course, included thousands of posts against the Indian government and that was unacceptable by the Centre. Also Read - How to silence autoplay videos on Facebook and Twitter
Twitter vs Indian government
The government earlier this month commanded the microblogging site to suspend thousands of Twitter accounts that tweeted against the Centre and supported farmers’ protest. Twitter complied with the order and suspended these accounts but later revoked them stating that the platform empowers “voices to be heard.” Also Read - Twitter's 'Tip Jar' feature will help you send money to others, starts rolling out now
The company stated in a recent blog post, “Following the reports of violence in New Delhi in recent weeks, we wanted to share a granular update on our proactive efforts to enforce our rules and defend our principles in India. Twitter exists to empower voices to be heard, and we continue to make improvements to our service so that everyone — no matter their views or perspective — feels safe participating in the public conversation.”
After Twitter revoked these accounts the Centre sent a legal notice asking to pull down as many as 1178 accounts. The platform initially declined to comply with the order and didn’t suspend the accounts until the government reportedly threatened to put Twitter’s top executives behind bars. As of the latest update on February 10, 2021, the microblogging site has suspended over 500 accounts as ordered by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.
MeitY said on Wednesday that the government was open to discuss the situation with Twitter in a meeting and come to a middle ground but the platform had a different plan.
In an official post, the platform stated that it encourages users’ freedom of speech and voicing out opinions but had to withhold the accounts “under the Country Withheld Content policy within India only.” The microblogging site said, “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,” it added.
Twitter further highlighted that suspended accounts will continue to be available outside of India as it doesn’t “believe that the actions” they have been “directed to take are consistent with Indian law.” “We will continue to maintain dialogue with the Indian government and respectfully engage with them,” the blog post added.
The platform also stated that it “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. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow.”
Will Twitter get banned in India?
Amid the unending battle between the microblogging site and the Indian government, a lot is said about the app getting blocked in India. There are no official words on the same yet, however, the government is encouraging users to move to a Made in India Twitter-like application dubbed Koo. The Made in India app is available on both the Google Play Store as well as Apple App Store. In fact, the app has started gaining wide popularity in the country and has been downloaded by over three million Android users.
Several government bodies have moved to the Koo app, however, they are also available on Twitter. In fact, Centre took to Koo to call Twitter’s blog post “unusual” as it was released at the time when the government was considering connecting with the platform to resolve the situation. Meity took to the homegrown app and stated, “Upon the request of Twitter seeking a meeting with the Govt., the Secretary IT was to engage with senior management of Twitter. In this light a blog post published prior to this engagement is unusual. Govt. will share its response soon.”
In my opinion, banning Twitter in the country is not a feasible option. This is clearly because media publications, celebrities, and politicians rely heavily on Twitter to make official announcements and reach wider audiences. So, banning the platform in the country will be more like cutting direct ties between the authorities and consumers.