An investigation conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed that Twitter has blocked almost a million tweets focused on Kashmir on the bidding of the Narendra Modi-led Indian government.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent organization focused on press freedom across the globe. As per the report, published on Friday, the CPJ discovered that since August 2017, hundreds and thousands of tweets have been blocked in India. These tweets were blocked under India’s country withheld content policy, and the blocked accounts are largely focused on Kashmir.
India Blocking Out Kashmir Narrative
The investigative report of the CPJ revealed that the Indian authorities had sent countless requests to Twitter between August 2017 and August 2019. The report revealed 54 letters dispatched by New Delhi to Twitter, directing it block all or some of 400 accounts.
CPJ found that 45% of those accounts were focused on Kashmir, with Kashmir either mentioned in the bio or handle, or had recently shared tweets about Kashmir. It added that thirteen of the 53 requests containing hundreds of URLs were dispatched by the Indian Election Commission ahead of the 2019 Indian General Election.
One writer from Indian-occupied Kashmir, Ahmed bin Qasim, who now lives in Pakistan, explained that his account had been blocked on 3rd January, 2019 for breaking Indian laws
The CPJ review revealed that the remaining 40 requests were dispatched by the Indian Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology. The report added that in August 2019, India had sent nine legal requests to Twitter, targeting 20 accounts and 24 tweets at the beginning of the communications blockade across the occupied valley.
CJP tested these accounts in September and October, and revealed that 93 of the 400 accounts where curbed in India. The review added that 90% of the withheld twitter accounts were focused on Kashmir, and consisted of 920,000 Kashmir-focused tweets altogether.
It is important to note that CPJ utilize Lumen, an open database, to retrieve data on the withheld accounts and tweets. The actual number of requests, accounts and tweets is likely to be much greater than the statistics that are publicly available on Lumen.
The requests discovered from Lumen were made by the Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology referred to the Section 69A of India’s Information Technology Act, which directs governmental agencies to authorize organizations like Twitter to remove or block all online content, citing reasons such as public order and security.
The CPJ publicly released a spreadsheet that highlights its data analysis, revealing the number of journalists who were silenced through this scheme system. Findings from August 2019 revealed that of the 20 accounts withheld, five belonged to bloggers and journalists, including Kamran Yousaf, a defense journalist from Pakistan.
It is pertinent to note that Twitter did not comply with every request as many URLs continue to be accessible despite the Indian requests. However, since 2017, the CPJ review reveals that Twitter’s compliance with Indian requests has grown significantly.
Between December 2012 and June 2017, Twitter had only complied with one request to block an entire account, even though the request was targeting 900 accounts. However, from June 2017 to December 2018, the Indian authorities requested the company to withhold 4,722 accounts, while Twitter complied by blocking only 131 of these accounts.
The CPJ spoke to multiple users whose accounts had been blocked under this mechanism. One writer from Indian-occupied Kashmir, Ahmed bin Qasim, who now lives in Pakistan, explained that his account had been blocked on 3rd January, 2019 for “breaking Indian laws”.
Experts believe that the heightened increase in India’s legal directives to eliminate and withhold content on Twitter reveals India’s scheme of stretching its censorship beyond occupied Jammu and Kashmir. These efforts are in line with India’s bid to control the narrative on Kashmiri, and Twitter’s compliance with these requests have reduced the space for discourse in the occupied region.