‘Democratic’ India threatens Twitter with punitive action

Quite a reversal in India, a country which tirelessly has been deploying all sorts of propaganda on Twitter to malign China and Pakistan on account of false charges of human rights violations and freedom of speech.

Fully conscious of its importance to the greedy trans-border multinational corporations, India has now taken its war against Kashmiri Muslims and protesting Sikh farmers to the social media platform Twitter.

First it had over 250 accounts blocked. Indian officials singled out the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmersGenocide, which some Twitter users have been using to bring attention to the government’s crackdown on protesters. The action by Twitter also included some professional news organizations and political activists, and generated a country-wide outcry. It included one handle with over 200,000 followers supporting the farmers’ protests against new agricultural reforms.

Read more: Farmers protest in India featured during Super Bowl broadcast in USA

The social media company had earlier acted against more than 500 accounts that the Indian government had flagged as inconsistent with its laws. It also made several other accounts only visible outside India and restricted access to certain hashtags allegedly containing harmful content.

Following an outcry on worldwide social media, as well as across India, Twitter restored the accounts within 12 hours, saying the tweets in question should be allowed as part of free speech. The company said protecting public conversation and transparency was fundamental to its work.

Jailing Twitter employees

But the Indian government reacted with fury, and even threatened Twitter with punitive action if it did not comply with a request to again block the said accounts connected to tweets about farmers’ protests that the government says are inflammatory. The notice by the Indian government also threatened Twitter’s employees with up to seven years in jail.

As this controversy raged, Twitter sent a legal notice also to a Brussels-based Kashmiri news platform #KashmirWatch.

It said “Twitter has received official correspondence from the Government of India regarding your Twitter account, @KashmirWatch, The correspondence claims that your account is in violation of India’s Information Technology Act, 2000. Please note we may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in the future.”

Read more: Indian Twitter accounts suspended on Modi government’s order amid farmers’ protest

Interesting, isn’t it? India complaining of violations of its law by a firm based in Belgium and which supports the cause of Kashmiri Muslims and the Sikh protests. Twitter obviously is caught between the rock and the deep sea. On the one hand are the lofty ideals such as freedom of speech and the right to protest, and on the other the commercial pressures. More often than not, western social media platforms tend to bends to threats both by the United States and the Indian government. The former is politically too mighty to oppose, the latter commercially too lucrative to ignore.

Indian government caught off guard

As the Indian government battles Twitter for keeping critical content off-limits to its citizens, it also faces a challenge of perception generated after western celebrities such as singer Rihanna and environmental activist Greta Thunberg tweeted in favour of the trend #ModiPlanningFarmersGenocide.

This battle against Twitter represents an extremely awkward situation for a government that takes pride in representing the true spirit of Hindutva – an ideology that aims to cleanse India of all non-Hindu groups. But on the other, it faces the compulsion of keeping the business going in a country with more than 700 million internet users. While such a massive internet user base turns India into a huge market for tech companies, they meanwhile also are worried about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s onslaught on the internet and social media. It had earlier similar spats with Facebook and WhatsApp, proposing regulations that would empower the police with greater control of the online content. It also banned TikTok and dozens of other apps last year after diplomatic tensions with China escalated.

Isn’t it about time for the world to realise what risks India faces under Narendra Modi, and what challenges does this government represent to the American companies like Twitter and Facebook?

In the current circumstances, Twitter’s employees in India are the biggest target of the Indian government if the company does not comply with demands. The other risk of course will be getting blocked in India.

Read more: How did the farmers’ protests turn into an oppressed peoples’ Movement in India

Quite a reversal in India, a country which tirelessly has been deploying all sorts of propaganda to malign China and Pakistan on account of human rights and freedom of speech and protest, and has now resorted to real information crackdown, pressuring social media platforms like Twitter to take out all those accounts that support #ModiPlanningFarmers’Genocide.

Imtiaz Gul is the founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), an Islamabad-based think tank. He is the author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate. This article was originally published in the Daily Times and has been republished with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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