US social media giant Twitter has complied with a government order to take down tweets criticising the government’s response to the Covid pandemic, according to several media reports. As the public healthcare system cracks under the burden of the second wave of the pandemic in India, social media platforms like Twitter have been abuzz with many blaming the Narendra Modi government for failing to procure enough oxygen, medication and vaccines.
Interestingly, a report on Harvard University project Lumen Database, which documents such takedown requests made by the government, says that several tweets belong to a Twitter handle promoting West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee amid an assembly election in the state. Other profiles include tweets by Revanth Reddy (a Member of Parliament), Moloy Ghatak (a minister in West Bengal), Vineet Kumar Singh (actor), and filmmakers Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das, according to a TechCrunch report
In February, the Modi government had threaded Twitter India with jail time if it did not comply with takedown orders related to over 1,000 accounts in relation to the massive farmers’ protests across India. Overall, 1,178 Twitter accounts are said to have been listed in the takedown order, with many claimed to be bots amplifying misinformation in relation to the protests and the farm bills.
The government had alleged that those accounts have been flagged by security agencies as belonging to supporters of the erstwhile Khalistan separatist movement or “backed by Pakistan,” as per an ET report which quotes unnamed officials. The publication also claimed that the government has “taken note of” Twitter cofounder and CEO Jack Dorsey liking some of the more high-profile accounts and tweets, supporting the protesting farmers.
The mention of accounts being backed by Pakistan came after rampant misinformation and fake news on Indian social media around several international personalities who had tweeted in support of the protesting farmers. These included singer and actress Rihanna, environment activist Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, the niece of the US Vice President Kamala Harris. The Modi government also released an official statement condemning some of these tweets, while a number of Indian celebrities also joined the fray with pro-government tweets, which many have likened to propaganda.
In response, Twitter had put out a blog post saying that it took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms. “We took a range of enforcement actions — including permanent suspension in certain cases — against more than 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s Rules,” the statement added.