Facing The Heat : #Twitter Faces Backlash From Government For Damaging Hashtags, Provocative Content

Picture : Twitter / ANI

Picture : Twitter / ANI

The Information and Technology Ministry, on 4 February, shared a list of the Twitter accounts that were flagged by security agencies “as accounts of Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan” and operating from foreign territories, and causing threat to public order amid the ongoing farmer stir. Many of these accounts were also automated bots that were used for sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative content on farmers’ protests.

The Indian government thus ordered Twitter to block 1,178 accounts from the platform that were allegedly linked to Pakistan and Khalistan supporters which were spreading misinformation and provocative content on farmers’ protest. Earlier, the government had ordered Twitter to take down handles and hashtags that suggested a “farmer genocide” was being planned, saying such “misinformation and inflammatory content” will incite passion, and impact public order. It has also warned Twitter of penal action in case of failure to comply with its directive. Twitter had blocked those accounts for few hours before unilaterally unblocking them.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had asked the microblogging site to block 257 URLs (web addresses) and one hashtag under the relevant provision of the law as they were “spreading misinformation about (farmer) protests and has the potential to lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country. “Union Minister for Information and Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “The government will take action against such platforms if they are used to disseminate fake news. “We respect social media a lot, it has empowered the common people. Social media has a big role in Digital India programme. However, if social media is misused to spread fake news and violence, then action will be taken.”

After much reluctance, signs of a truce are visible in the spat between Twitter and the government as the former has taken down 97 per cent of handles flagged by the IT ministry. In its two orders, the Centre had demanded Twitter to block accounts of 1,435 users — 257 in the first order and 1,178 in second — for spreading inflammatory hashtags like “farmers genocide” and supporting pro-Pakistan and pro-Khalistan agendas. The breakthrough came in after the IT secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney met the Twitter executives Monique Meche and Jim Baker, following which the social media giant started to act against the users. Jim Baker, Vice President for legal matters assured the government that the company would be mindful of the concerns. He said, “The global management of Twitter can be approached directly in case of violations that are sensitive in nature. This is seen as a massive reassurance to tackle hate, inflammatory and irresponsible messaging.”

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