Farmers’ Protest: Govt warns Twitter of consequences as tech-giant reinstate accounts

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The government of India has sent a notice to Twitter for restoring a number of accounts, who are posting in support of the farmers’ protests, despite the IT Ministry directive and warned of consequences “of non-compliance of directions issued under section 69A of the Act”.

Earlier, nearly 100 Twitter accounts and 150 tweets related to the farmers’ protests went off the platform on Monday after the IT Ministry directed Twitter to remove these accounts under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. However, the accounts were unblocked late Monday night after a meeting with IT Ministry officials.

Now, reported Indian Express, the 18-page notice stated that the “impracticability or the disproportionality of the said measure cannot be decided (by) Twitter which is an intermediary bound by the orders of the Central Government.”

Unnamed sources in Twitter told the newspaper: “Pending our discussions with the regulatory authorities, we temporarily withheld these accounts in India under our Country Withheld Content policy in response to a valid legal request from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. During our subsequent meetings with the officials, Twitter conveyed that the accounts and Tweets in question constitute free speech and are newsworthy. Therefore, these Tweets and accounts have now been unwithheld. Protecting public conversation and Transparency is fundamental to the work we do at Twitter.”

On Monday evening, unnamed government sources told the newspaper that they had not changed their order in the meeting with Twitter, saying, “Yes, Twitter tried to push back against the order, but we have not changed anything. You can’t write that the PM is carrying out a genocide on farmers and get away with it. Twitter needs to implement this. People can’t go on insulting the Prime Minister of the land like this.”

The 18 page notice the the IT ministry is sending to Twitter stated:

“The direction to block the hashtag ‘#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide’ … has been found to be instigating people to commit cognizable offences in relations to public order and security of the state. It may be noted that the impracticability or the disproportionality of the said measure cannot be decided (by) Twitter which is an intermediary bound by the orders of the Central Government. It may further be noted that the banning of the said hashtag is accompanied by the content that is attached to the said hashtag by the users using the same. Apart from the fact that the hashtag itself is provocative, the assertion of Twitter in its letter dated 1/2/2021 that praises, exaggerations, and crude emotional appeals do not constitute inflammatory speech in light of the judgements of the Honourable Supreme Court, is meritless, as the content attached to the said hashtag had been found to be directly falling afoul of Section 69A of the IT Act. In this regard, it is necessary to point out to the stated irrationality of Twitter conducting a purported constitutional balancing act in the absence of any legal mandate.

It is reiterated that the blocking committee had confirmed the earlier decision to block the URLs/hashtags. After the hearing was concluded on 1/2/2021 also, the interim order continued to remain in operation despite which you chose not to comply to the mandate of law and the order passed by the competent authority, legally endowed with the jurisdiction to pass the same. Instead you chose to send a communication attempting to give justification thereby not only admitting that you have not complied with the order, but also seeking to justify non-compliance.

Finally, it needs to be mentioned that 69A provided for specific consequences on case of non-compliance of directions issued under section 69A of the Act.”

Among the accounts that were suspended include those of Kisan Ekta Morcha and Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), The Caravan magazine, Prasar Bharti CEO Sashi Shekhar Vempati, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Jarnail Singh, CPI(M) leader Md Salim, activist Hansraj Meena, and actor Sushant Singh.

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