Govt notice to Twitter over controversial hashtag

Elias Hubbard
February 4, 2021

The development comes after Twitter unblocked the 257 accounts and the tweets it had briefly jammed a day after a January 31 government order.

The notice said that Section 69A of the IT Act provides jurisdiction to the government to direct an intermediary to block public access to any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource if the same is necessary or expedient in order to prevent incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to public order. Warning against the "temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments", the centre said the protests were by "a very small section of farmers" in parts of India.

"The direction to block the hashtag '#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide' has been found to be instigating people to commit cognisable offences in relations to public order and security of the state", the ministry said in its notice to Twitter.

The government notice, according to sources, quotes more than half a dozen Supreme Court orders including Constitutional benches as to what is public order and what are the rights of authorities.

The content posted with the inflammatory hashtag was designed to inflame passions, hatred, create tensions in the society and was factually incorrect, the government said, adding that "incitement to genocide is not freedom of speech, but a threat to law and order".

Government has directed Twitter to comply with its order to remove content and accounts related to farmer genocide hashtags and warned that the microblogging platform may face "penal action" for non-compliance of its order, according to sources. "Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing, so e.g. if we receive a court order under seal)".

The action, under the IT Act Section 69A (3), could result in up to seven years jail for senior Twitter India officials, and a financial penalty on the firm.

IT ministry sources asserted that Twitter can not assume the role of court and justify non-compliance. "Censoring press on social media is not okay".

"You can choose to disagree, correct, ridicule, or engage with such fears, outcry", he wrote. Seeking to ban & precensor such discussions is a travesty of India's Constitution + global human rights law. "Don't hide; explain and justify how this is not unconstitutional", he added. Singer Rihanna, who has more followers on Twitter than any Indian actor or politician, tweeted a CNN news story on Tuesday about the protests in India and asked "why aren't we talking about this!?". Therefore, these Tweets and accounts were unblocked.

Earlier, Facebook had unpublished Kisan Ekta Morcha's page for a brief period on December 20, citing violation of their content policy.

Some more accounts associated with the farmers protest were also been blocked. CPI (M) Puducherry's handle was also withheld. While Twitter did act on this, it soon restored the accounts in question.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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