Twitter is now blocking accounts flagged by the central government for allegedly spreading "misinformation and provocative content" in connection with the ongoing farmers' protest. The social media platform also said that it had taken measures to curb the presence of hashtags containing "harmful content" on its platform.
Twitter Inc. has suspended 500 accounts that were engaged in "platform manipulation and spam", it said in a blog post on Wednesday, February 10, reported The Times Of India.
In its blog, Twitter said that the handles would only be blocked within India, and would not include those of journalists, media organisations, activists and politicians. It also said that the values that underpin the open internet and free expression "are increasingly under threat around the world".
"To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law... We do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law," Twitter said in a statement.
At least 126 of the 257 handles that had originally tweeted with the "farmer genocide" hashtag have been deactivated.
These were among the same handles that the platform had blocked some time ago but had unblocked them citing "free speech" and because it found the content "newsworthy".
The development comes soon after the government sent a list of 1,178 accounts to Twitter, asking it to block them in India. The ministry said these accounts "were flagged by security agencies as accounts of Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan, causing a threat to public order by tweeting on ongoing farmers protests".
The notice further mentioned that Twitter was required to follow the government's orders and warned of penal actions if it refused to do so. The centre also warned that flouting its orders may attract stringent penalties including potential jail terms.
On Tuesday, Twitter reached out to Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for dialogue.
Twitter also said, "Safety of our employees is a top priority for us at Twitter. We continue to be engaged with the government of India from a position of respect and have reached out to the Honourable Minister, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, for formal dialogue."
The conflict between 'freedom of expression' and the government's powers to block internet content to protect 'public order' began when the centre sent a list of 257 accounts on January 31, asking the platform to block these handles.
The San Francisco-based social media platform is now "actively exploring options under Indian law" both for its own practices as well as for the affected accounts.