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India ‘Twitter ban’ sees fearful users post ‘last tweets’

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 (Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty)
(Denis Charlet/AFP/Getty)

Social media users in India are expressing their fears that Twitter and other platforms might be about to be banned in the country, with many taking to the platform to send out their “last tweet”.

Twitter, along with fellow Silicon Valley giants WhatsApp and Instagram, have so far failed to confirm they will comply with new guidelines issued by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, known as the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) 2021, which is due to come into effect on Wednesday.

The guidelines were unveiled on 25 February and impose stricter regulatory measures on social media companies to encourage greater accountability, requiring them to appoint a chief compliance officer, establish an efficient complaint-handling system and remove any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours, according to Business Today.

They will also have to publish a monthly compliance report recording details of all complaints received and what action was taken, as well as offer users a contact address in India via their websites and apps.

The deadline for acceptance has now arrived but so far only Facebook and Koo, India’s own alternative to Twitter, has agreed to the terms with the ministry, with its American counterparts calling for a six month delay to the introduction of the new rules.

Facebook said in a statement: “We aim to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government.

“According to the IT rules, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. Facebook remains committed to people’s ability to freely and safely express themselves on our platform.”

Twitter though has so far only said it intends to continue to rely on its own fact-checkers, according to The Times of India, the company declining to disclose details about its investigative procedures.

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While some users were quick to warn that, by banning Twitter, India would be following in the footsteps of authoritarian governments like those in China, North Korea and Turkmenistan, others dismissed the threat as hysterical, commenting that prime minister Narendra Modi would not risk losing a platform useful for promoting his own interests or going up against the might of the American tech giants in court.

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The compliance deadline arrives a day after Delhi Police visited Twitter’s office in the city in response to the company labelling a tweet by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Sambit Patra as “manipulated media”.

BJP leaders had reportedly shared screenshots of a document on Twitter that they said had been created by the main opposition party, Congress, to highlight the government’s failure in handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress leaders Rohan Gupta and MV Rajeev Gowda subsequently complained to Twitter that the file in question was fake, prompting the site to flag the tweet in question.

Delhi Police said it had then received a complaint about the classification and arrived at the company’s office to serve notice, a move that was later described variously as “intimidation” and “theatre of the absurd” by critics.

“This was necessary as we wanted to ascertain who is the right person to serve a notice [to], as replies by Twitter India MD have been very ambiguous,” a police statement read.

“It appears that Twitter has some information which is not known to us on the basis of which they have classified it as such. This information is relevant to the enquiry.”

The incident was only the latest spat between the company and the Indian government, after it was ordered to take down posts critical of the state’s handling of Covid-19 in April.

Twitter ultimately complied, declining to say what material had been removed, although it was subsequently reported that one tweet featured a West Bengal politician blaming Mr Modi for coronavirus deaths, and an actor in another criticising him for holding political rallies in the middle of the virus’s deadly second wave, the country having suffered almost 27m infections and 300,000 deaths.

Prior to that, the company was also forced to unblock several accounts related to farmers protesting agricultural reforms at the request of the authorities.

The Independent has contacted Twitter for comment.

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