As India’s coronavirus pandemic burns out of control, the country’s government is cracking down – on social media. The Indian government on Thursday ordered Twitter to block more than 50 tweets criticizing the way it has handled the pandemic. Twitter complied, preventing locals from viewing posts from people who include a minister of state, an opposition member of the Indian parliament, filmmakers, an actor, two journalists and several ordinary people.
On Saturday, Twitter released the order details to Lumen database, a Harvard University project that tracks government withdrawal notices around the world. The news was first reported by the Indian technology policy website Medianama.
“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under Twitter rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter Rules, the content will be removed from the service, ”a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “If it is found to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we can deny access to content in India only. The company said it informed people in advance that it had restricted tweets in India, telling them that the company was responding to an order from the Indian government.
India’s IT ministry did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
One of the restricted tweets is owned by Moloy Ghatak, a minister of the All India Trinamool Congress party in the state of West Bengal, where Hindu Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently served massive electoral rallies even as hundreds of thousands of Indians have tested positive for COVID-19 every day.
Ghatak’s tweet criticized Modi for mismanaging the pandemic.
The government has also restricted dozens of tweets criticizing Modi or sharing photos of India. overflowing crematoriums and hospitals, in addition to a Tweeter of the Indian American Muslim Council, an Indo-American Muslim advocacy organization based in Washington DC. This group shared a History of vice about the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage in which hundreds of thousands of Indians took part earlier this month, and which turned into a super spreader event.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Ghatak and the Indian American Muslim Council for their comments.
At the start of this year, coronavirus cases in India fell and most parts of the country have returned to normal life. In early March, the Indian Minister of Health mentionned that the country was in the “end game” of the pandemic. But the country is now in the throes of a second wave triggered by a new variant of the virus, religious rallies and election rallies. India currently has the highest number of daily infections in the world and its health system has collapsed. Medical oxygen is scarce, ventilators are hard to find, and vaccines are weak. According to According to data from Johns Hopkins, India had 346,786 new cases on Friday and 2,624 deaths.
Despite the numbers, Modi has continued organize massive electoral rallies.
This is not the first time that Twitter has complied with Indian government orders to censor tweets. In February, the company blocked over 250 accounts in India that have criticized the government’s handling of protests by hundreds of thousands of farmers against new farm laws. The company subsequently struck a provocative note unblock accounts belonging to journalists, activists and politicians, despite prison threats from the Indian government.