Twitter yields, blocks access to hundreds of India accounts

Twitter had earlier been in a standoff with the India government.
Twitter had earlier been in a standoff with the India government.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Twitter Inc has permanently suspended more than 500 accounts and blocked access to hundreds of others within India, the company said on Wednesday (Feb 10), acceding to the government's order to restrain the spread of misinformation and inflammatory content related to the farmers' protest.

The social media giant had earlier been in a standoff with the India government, disagreeing with some blocking orders from regulators and citing "open and free exchange of information", but backed down after receiving a non-compliance notice.

Flouting the government's orders attracts stringent penalties, including potential jail terms.

Among the actions undertaken by Twitter, which included the suppression of hashtags containing harmful content, the company "withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders" within India, making them accessible only outside the country's borders in order to come into compliance with local law.

India has blacked out Internet and wireless services after thousands of farmers converged on the capital. They are being held back by heavy security deployment.

Farmers' groups have been demanding that the government repeal laws that they allege favour corporate-run farm companies over those with small landholdings.

Well-known celebrities like singer Rihanna and activist Greta Thunberg have campaigned via tweets on behalf of the farmers using their massive following.

The San Francisco-based social media giant is "actively exploring options under Indian law" both for its own practices as well as for the impacted accounts, the company said.

It has not taken any action on accounts of news media entities, journalists, activists or politicians, reiterating its policy to prioritise providing free expression.

India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) had first directed the microblogging platform to remove more than 250 accounts and this week added over 1,000 more under the rules of the Information Technology Act, which allows such actions in the interest of the country's sovereignty, defence and security.

The social media platform had begun 24/7 surveillance of posts on Jan 26 to enforce actions on content, trends, tweets and accounts, Twitter said in its blog on Wednesday morning.