The Centre has issued a notice to social media giant Twitter to comply with its order to remove content and accounts spreading fake news and inflammatory speech on farmers' protests in India. The government's response came after Twitter "unilaterally" unblocked over 250 such accounts despite blocking them after the government's advice on January 1.
The IT ministry said Twitter is an intermediary and is obliged to obey "the direction of the government and refusal to do so will invite penal action under Section 69A of the Act".
Notably, the Section 69 of the IT Act allows the central government to block access to information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource if it believes the content impacts the security, defence, sovereignty and integrity of India.
The notice says that the "impracticability or disproportionality of the said measure cannot be decided at the instance of Twitter, which is an intermediary bound by the orders of the central government."
"Incitement to genocide is not a freedom of speech. It is a threat to law and order," the official statement said.
Twitter suspended around 250 accounts on Monday after the IT ministry directed it to remove them under Section 69A of the IT Act for spreading fake news and inciting violence with hashtags like "farmers genocide". However, the social media company unblocked these accounts on Monday night. The notice says that Twitter's assertion that these Tweets do not account to "inflammatory speech" was "meritless".
"The direction to block the hashtag "#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide" has been found to be instigating people to commit cognizable offences in relation to public order and security of the state," says the notice.
It adds that apart from the fact that the hashtag itself is provocative, the assertion of Twitter in its February 2 letter that "stock phrases and exaggerations/crude emotional appeals do not constitute inflammatory speech, in light of the judgments of the Hon'ble Supreme Court, is meritless".
Meanwhile, an international campaign against farm bills has erupted with celebrities like pop singer Rihanna, teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg and Kamala Harris' niece Meena Harris showing solidarity with protesting farmers. The Ministry of External Affairs, in its response, has said these comments tweeting on the issue were "neither accurate nor responsible".
"Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken. The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible," the MEA said.
Many Indian celebrities have, meanwhile, slammed Rihanna and others for running "propaganda" against India's policies. "Don't fall for any false propaganda against India or Indian policies. It's important to stand united at this hour w/o any infighting," Ajay Devgn said in a tweet.
Akshay Kumar, while sharing the MEA statement, said, "Farmers constitute an extremely important part of our country. And the efforts being undertaken to resolve their issues are evident. Let's support an amicable resolution, rather than paying attention to anyone creating differences."