Twitter has told the government of India that it will not restrict the accounts of journalists, activists and politicians in India, despite receiving an order from the country’s federal government. However, it is blocking the possibility of internal country viewing to an unspecified number of accounts that do not belong to these categories.
In a blog post published on Tuesday, the company said that while it had withheld some accounts that the government of India wanted it to block, it would not block others because doing so would violate freedom of expression.
“As we do not believe that the actions we have been instructed to take are consistent with the laws of India and in accordance with our principles of defense of protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken no action instead of new media entities, journalists, activists and politicians, ”the Twitter blog post said. “We believe that doing so would violate their fundamental right to free speech under Indian law.”
The Twitter message comes amid a struggle with the government of India, a major market for the company, to restrict accounts to the platform. Earlier this month, the company restricted the people of India cannot see more than 250 accounts in the country after receiving an emergency legal order from the IT ministry of India. Among the blocked accounts were the Caravan, an investigative news magazine; critics with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and tweet accounts in support of a month-long peasant protest that is sweeping the country.
But Twitter restored the accounts six hours later, arguing with the Indian government that the accounts constituted freedom of expression and were worthy of mention. In response, the government threatened Twitter officials with a fine and up to seven years in prison for breaching his order.
The confrontation with the Indian government has put Twitter in a difficult place. Blocking the accounts would mean allowing repression against dissent, freedom of expression and journalism by the increasingly authoritarian government of India. But challenging the government means risking legal consequences.
A la blog post posted on Tuesday, Twitter said it had taken additional measures such as banning hashtags containing harmful content from the platform, which the government feared would lead to real-world violence amid protest and the permanent suspension of more than 500 accounts for violating Twitter standards.
But the publish it also indicates that Twitter is seeking legal redress to restore some accounts it has restricted in the country.
“We will continue to defend the right to free expression on behalf of the people we serve and actively explore the options of Indian law, both for Twitter and for the affected accounts,” Twitter wrote. “We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation that takes place on Twitter and we firmly believe that Tweets should flow.”