Twitter 'withholds' several accounts including Prasar Bharati CEO's after request from govt

NEW DELHI: Twitter has blocked several accounts and tweets after the government asked the microblogging platform to take action against 250 handles and posts for containing ‘false and provocative content’ related to the ongoing farmers’ agitation, according to sources.

These include accounts of Kisan Ekta Morcha and BKU Ekta Urgahan that have thousands of followers and have been actively involved in the ongoing protests.

According to sources, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) directed Twitter to block around 250 tweets/Twitter accounts that were making ‘fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets’ on January 30 with hashtags accusing the Modi government of planning farmers ‘genocide’ without any further substantiation.

After facing outrage from civil society, Twitter restored the accounts in a few hours.

This blocking was done at the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs and law enforcement agencies to prevent any escalation of law and order in view of the ongoing farmer agitation, the sources said adding that these tweets/accounts have now been blocked.

The sources said incitement to genocide is a grave threat to public order and therefore, MeitY ordered blocking of these Twitter accounts and tweets under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

When contacted, a Twitter spokesperson said if it receives a “properly scoped request” from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”

“Transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing so eg if we receive a court order under seal),” the spokesperson added.

However, Twitter did not provide details of the accounts/tweets that were blocked.

Upon searching for accounts including Kisan Ekta Morcha (@Kisanektamorcha) and BKU Ekta Urgahan (@Bkuektaugrahan) — a message saying “account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand” was displayed.

Twitter withholds Prasar Bharati CEO’s account 

Twitter on Monday also “withheld” account of Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati.

Prasar Bharati asked Twitter to explain the reason for withholding Vempati’s account.

“Dear @twitter @TwitterIndia could you explain the grounds for withholding CEO Prasar Bharati’s Twitter handle @shashidigital in India?” it said.

Meanwhile, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee on Data Protection Bill, condemned the blocking of Prasar Bharti CEO’s account and said it has “victimised the person who told you to take the right step”.

“It shows how artificial is artificial intelligence,” she said.

The MP said Vempati had made a complaint concerning an account who was writing against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“While taking action they blocked his (Vempati’s) account as well. This clearly shows when the real intelligence is missing this is what happens. I have always pleaded that there is a need for fair artificial intelligence. It clearly shows hashtag like that should have been detected immediately and should have been corrected immediately. The person who has made a complaint is obviously not a part of the process but by blocking that handle you are victimising the person who told you to take the right step,” she said.

The development comes in the wake of violence in Delhi on January 26 during a tractor parade of farmers, protesting against the three new central agriculture laws.

The Delhi Police is currently probing the Republic Day violence, wherein it has lodged multiple FIRs and booked, among others, several farmer leaders leading the protests at the national capital’s borders since November-end.

FIRs have been lodged against some journalists as well.