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Twitter helps govt block accounts tweeting on farmer protests, withholds Kishan Ekta and other accounts

A number of Twitter accounts that were tweeting or sharing information on farmers' protests in India have been blocked or withheld in the country by Twitter India.

twitter-logoIndia Today Tech | February 1, 2021 | Updated 21:12 IST
(Picture: Reuters)

Highlights

  • Twitter blocks several accounts tweeting about farmers' protests in India.
  • Twitter notes that accounts are "withheld" in India in response to a legal notice.
  • It seems 250 accounts and tweets have been blocked.

A number of Twitter accounts, including those belonging to Kisan Ekta Morcha and the Caravan, are now blocked in India, apparently, after the Indian government sent a legal notice to Twitter. The accounts that have been blocked by Twitter in India include Kisan Ekta Morcha, The Caravan India, Manik Goyal, Tractor2twitr and jatt_junction. It seems Twitter has received a legal notice to block several Twitter accounts belonging to farmers' organisations, activists and media groups that were tweeting on framers protests against the farm bill.

Update: The accounts blocked in India have been unblocked. It is possible that while Twitter India blocked the accounts during the day but after the news and outrage on social about it, the decision was reviewed by the US team in Twitter HQ and the accounts were unblocked.

At the time of updating this article, The Caravan magazine, official account of Bharti Kisan Union, Tractor To Twitter, actor Sushant Singh's account and Kisan Ekta Morcha accounts were back live again.

While Twitter has not officially commented after it blocked, or unblocked, the accounts, India Today Tech has learnt that there was a rethink a few hours after the accounts were blocked.

India Today Tech learns that Twitter had blocked the accounts in the interim in response to a valid legal request from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology pending discussions with them. During the meeting with the concerned officials, Twitter has conveyed that the content is free speech and newsworthy. Protecting public conversation and Transparency is fundamental to the work we do at Twitter, the content has been unblocked, sources revealed.

The official Twitter account of Kisan Ekta Morcha was back online

Government officials said that Twitter had been asked to block over 250 accounts or tweets that were using a specific hashtag. The MEITY (IT Ministry) has blocked around 250 Tweets and Twitter accounts which were using #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag and making fake, intimidatory and provocative Tweets on Saturday that was January 30, officials said. Of this, India Today learns, there are around 120 accounts and 230 tweets. Sources said that the government flagged these tweets and accounts o prevent escalation of law and order in view of the on-going farmer agitation.

This has been done on the request of Ministry of Home Affairs and law enforcement agencies to prevent any escalation of law and order given the on-going farmer agitation, added officials. However, it is worth noting that some were not using that specific hashtag among the blocked accounts.

For now, it is not clear which specific accounts have been blocked. Twitter users are still discovering that a number of accounts that were tweeting information related to farmers' protest are now showing a blocked in India message. Given that Twitter uses regional blocking of accounts, the message being shown is: "Account Withheld @thecaravanindia's account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand."

Similar messages are appearing on other accounts that have been withheld in India.

Currently, from the chatter on Twitter, it seems that the following accounts are not available in India: @imMAK02s, @thecaravanindia, @Kisanektamorcha, @manavijyan, @derasachasauda, @Bkuektaugrahan, @tractor2twitr, @aartic02, @sushant_says, @salimdotcomrade, @sanjukta, @HansrajMeena, @EpicRoflDon, @shashidigital . The last in this list - Shashi Digital - belongs to the CEO of Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar. It seems that his accounts could have been blocked in error and that the legal notice probably was targeting Shashi Tharoor, a Congress politician.

India Today Tech reached out to Twitter India to comment on the accounts being withheld. In an email, the Twitter spokesperson said, "Many countries have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time. Transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing so, e.g. if we receive a court order under seal)."

Twitter has not responded or provided details of the legal notice it received for now. The blocking of Twitter accounts comes days after the MHA ordered blocking of the internet in and around the sites where farmers are protesting on Delhi border.

On its global website, Twitter explains that instead of blocking accounts, it usually withholds them in a particular country when it gets a legal notice. The company notes, "In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time. Such withholdings will be limited to the specific jurisdiction that has issued the valid legal demand or where the content has been found to violate local law(s)."

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