As India’s coronavirus pandemic burns out of control, the country’s government is repressing itself on social media. On Thursday, the Indian government ordered Twitter to block more than 50 tweets criticizing how it has handled the pandemic. Twitter complied, preventing people in the country from seeing the posts of people including a state minister, an opposition member in the Indian parliament, filmmakers, an actor, two journalists and several ordinary people.
On Saturday, Twitter posted details about the order in the Lumen database, a Harvard University project that tracks government withdrawal notices worldwide. The news was reported for the first time by the Medianama Indian Technology Policy website.
“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it according to Twitter rules and local laws. If the content violates Twitter Rules, the content will be removed from the service, “a Twitter spokesman told BuzzFeed News.” If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter rules, We can retain access only to content in India. ”The company said it notified people in advance of the tweets it restricted to 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 belongs to Moloy Ghatak, minister of the All India Trinamool Congress party in the state of West Bengal, where he recently celebrated Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi mass electoral rallies even when hundreds of thousands of Indians tested positive for COVID-19 daily.
Ghatak’s tweet criticized Modi for mismanaging the pandemic.
The government also restricted dozens of tweets criticizing Modi or sharing images of India overflowing crematoria and hospitals, in addition to one tweet of the Indian American Muslim Council, an organization advocating for American Indian Muslims based in Washington DC. This group shared one Vice story on the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage attended by hundreds of thousands of Indians earlier this month and which converted in a super spreader event.
“While hundreds of thousands of Covid patients literally gasp for breath, the government’s alacrity in pressuring Twitter to block critical tweets with crisis management shows the administration’s moral compass continues to point in a self-serving direction without shame, “the American Indian Muslim Council said in a statement.
BuzzFeed News has contacted Ghatak to comment.
Earlier this year, cases of coronavirus in India plummeted and most parts of the country resumed normal life. In early March, Minister of Health of India dit that the country was in the “final game” of the pandemic. But the country is now in full swing second wave caused by a new variant of viruses, religious gatherings and electoral rallies. India currently has the highest number of daily infections in the world and its healthcare system has collapsed. Medical oxygen is scarce, fans are hard to find and vaccines are running out. According to data from John Hopkins, India had 346,786 new cases on Friday and 2,624 dead.
Despite the numbers, Modi does it continued the holding of mass electoral rallies.
It is not the first time Twitter has complied with Indian government orders to censor tweets. In February, the company locked more than 250 accounts in India that criticized the government’s handling of the protests of hundreds of thousands of farmers against new agricultural laws. Subsequently, the company attacked one challenging note, despite unlocking accounts of journalists, activists and politicians prison threats of the Indian government.