Indian government issues take down order of critical COVID-19 tweets

The Indian government made an emergency request on Friday to block tweets that were critical of its COVID-19 handling.

Twitter has confirmed it was asked by the Indian government to take down dozens of tweets that criticised the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, as cases of the virus skyrocket in the country.

The Indian government's emergency request, made on Friday, was disclosed by Lumen Database, an online transparency database run by Harvard University, Twitter said.

The request cited the orders were served under the Information Technology Act, which means that failure to comply could result in the imprisonment of Twitter employees.

"When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law," a Twitter spokesperson told ZDNet.

"If the content violates Twitter's Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only."

Twitter added that affected account holders have been contacted directly, "so they're aware that we've received a legal order pertaining to the account". 

"We notify the user(s) by sending a message to the email address associated with the account(s), if available," the company said.

Among those Twitter account holders impacted by the ban, according to reports by MediaNama, include filmmaker and former journalist Vinod Kapri, West Bengal's minister of Labour and Law Moloy Ghatak, actor Vineet Kumar Singh, and member of Parliament Revanth Reddy. Another user also publicly shared the notice he received from Twitter. 

Daily COVID-19 case numbers in India have reached a new record of nearly 350,000, while total confirmed cases in the country is sitting at the 17 million mark.     

This is not the first time the Indian government has censored tweets. In February, Twitter permanently banned or hid over 500 accounts in response to blocking orders it received from the Indian government.

The social media platform also reduced the visibility of various hashtags containing harmful content, which entailed prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms, and withheld various accounts from being viewed in India to comply with the orders.

Towards the end of last year, the Indian government introduced a new rule that stated digital media -- from Netflix to posts on Facebook -- will now be regulated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Up until then, the government only censored and regulated print newspapers, television, films and theatre while digital content effectively slipped under the radar,  

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