Twitter is on a collision course with Indian authorities after it refused an official request to remove over a thousand accounts from its platform.

The Indian government Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this week requested that San Francisco-based Twitter remove more than 1,100 accounts and posts, which it alleged were spreading misinformation about widespread protests by farmers against new agricultural laws.

However, Twitter has refused, saying a government order to remove some accounts was not consistent with Indian law.

Twitter refusal

Twitter explained its refusal to comply with the Indian demand in a blog post on Wednesday.

“Following the reports of violence in New Delhi in recent weeks, we wanted to share a granular update on our proactive efforts to enforce our rules and defend our principles in India,” Twitter blogged.

“Separate to our enforcement under the Twitter Rules, over the course of the last 10 days, Twitter has been served with several separate blocking orders by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act,” it stated.

“Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law,” Twitter stated. “After we communicated this to MeitY, we were served with a non-compliance notice.”

But Twitter insisted it did the right thing.

It pointed out that it took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms.

Twitter also said it had taken a range of enforcement actions – including permanent suspension in certain cases – against more than 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s Rules.

“Separately, today, we have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only,” Twitter added. “These accounts continue to be available outside of India.”

“Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians,” the platform blogged. “To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”

Legal action

“We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021,” it added. “We will continue to maintain dialogue with the Indian government and respectfully engage with them.

But Twitter’s refusal is unlikely to go down well with the nationalist government of Modi.

Indeed, the Indian government has reportedly threatened legal action which could result in fines or imprisonment for Twitter officials responsible for implementing government directives.

India is an important market for Twitter, as it is a country of 1.3 billion where it has millions of users.

Twitter is also widely used by Prime Minister Modi, his cabinet ministers and other leaders to communicate with the public.

China dispute

But India is not afraid of flexing its political muscle on the tech front.

Last year it banned hundreds of mostly Chinese-origin mobile apps, including TikTok.

India and China are at centre of escalating tensions since June 2020, after military forces of both countries clashed along the Sino-Indian border, in a disputed Himalayan border location.

Fighting between the two nations in the region resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers (including an officer).

China claimed 43 of its soldiers were hurt.

India then banned 59 Chinese apps, including ByteDance’s TikTok, Alibaba’s UC Browser and Xiaomi’s Mi Community app.

And then in September a further 118, mostly Chinese apps, including Tencent’s popular game PUBG Mobile, were also banned.

China continues to protest against these bans.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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