Twitter is shouting a defiant note fight with India to restrict accounts in the country. On Monday, the company released its first official response since the government of India demanded the blocking of more than 250 accounts it had restored challenging an order from the IT ministry. Among the blocked accounts were Caravan, a news magazine, and people who had criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We firmly believe that the open and free exchange of information has a positive overall impact and that Tweets should continue to flow,” the company said in a statement shared with BuzzFeed News.
The Twitter statement comes amid a confrontation with India’s increasingly authoritarian government, as millions of peasants protest agricultural reforms, shaking the nation.
Monday, reports in the Indian press he said the government had asked the company to block nearly 1,200 additional accounts that it said were tweeting about the protests and were being directed from Pakistan. A report an anonymous government official was also quoted in the Times of India as saying that India was upset with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for liking the tweets supporting the protests. A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.
On January 31, India’s IT ministry had ordered Twitter prevent more than 250 accounts belonging to activists, political commentators and the Caravan could not be seen within the country. Twitter initially complied, but changed course six hours later. In response, the government of India ordered the site blocked accounts once again and threatened Twitter officials in India with legal consequences for violating the order, including a fine and up to seven years in prison.
But, a week later, the accounts are still in place, putting the company’s staff in India at risk of government retaliation.
“The safety of our employees is a priority for us on Twitter,” the company statement said. “We continue to work with the Government of India from a position of respect and have contacted the Honorable Minister, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for a formal dialogue.”
Twitter’s actions put him at the center of a debate on freedom of expression in a country that sees continued repression of dissent amid protests by millions of farmers against agricultural reforms that they say will hurt their income. For Twitter, blocking accounts would once again mean enabling such repression, but not restricting them has legal consequences.
“We review all reports we receive from the government as quickly as possible and take appropriate action in relation to those reports, while ensuring that we uphold our core values and our commitment to protecting public conversation,” he said. Twitter. “An update is shared through our established communication channels with the Government.”
Despite the polite language, some people, included old Twitter employees saw a double meaning in the statement. During the Arab Spring of 2011, co-founder Biz Stone and former CEO Alexander Macgillivray wrote a post clarifying the company’s position on freedom of expression. It was like that titled: “Tweets should flow”.