After the questionable localized blackout of around 250 Twitter accounts, which included Caravan magazine, Prasar Bharti CEO, Kisan Ekta Morcha, Twitter has now unblocked the accounts. The social media platform Twitter quietly restored the withheld accounts on Monday evening after 12 hours of the restriction.
Our account has been restored. Today more than ever, it is clear that true media needs true allies. We thank our readers, subscribers and contributors for their support.
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— The Caravan (@thecaravanindia) February 1, 2021
Kisan Ekta Morcha, the farmers’ union that has been protesting against farm laws took to Twitter to test whether the account was restored or not.
Is this tweet visible to indian accounts ?
— Kisan Ekta Morcha (@Kisanektamorcha) February 1, 2021
Earlier yesterday, Twitter blocked access to a number of accounts which included accounts of high-profile individuals, citing a “legal demand” by the government as the reason of the account ban. The move received widespread anger and condemnation from users across India who sought an explanation from the company
Accounts banned by Twitter due to the government order
Among the accounts withheld by Twitter were: Kisan Ekta Morcha, which represents farmer’s rights and has over 1,70,000 followers, Tractor to Twitter, another farmer’s rights account with more than 42 thousand followers, MD Salim (former lawmaker), The Caravan, a critically-acclaimed investigative magazine that churns out content which questions the current government and media. Political commentator Sanjukta Basu, actor Sushant Singh, Aam Aadmi Party politicians Preeti Sharma and Jarnail Singh, and CEO of Prasar Bharti were also among the 250 accounts that were withheld by the government,
According to the Ministry of Electronics and IT, the 250 accounts that were withheld had tweets that allegedly used the #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag. According to TIME, these accounts were accused of creating “fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets.”
Earlier, an AFP journalist reported that the Ministry of Electronics and IT asked Twitter to block the link to the 250 accounts as they were used to create “provocative tweets”. Speaking to TechCrunch, the journalist also added, “Incitement to genocide is a grave threat to public order and therefore the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) ordered for blocking of these Twitter accounts and Tweets under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.”
Later in the day, the Twitter spokesperson finally gave a statement saying, “Many countries have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorized 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.”
Catch-22 situation for account holders
Meanwhile, a New Delhi-based advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation explained the Catch-22 like situation where the Indian citizens can challenge the blocking of an account, but at the same time are unable to do so as they don’t have the access to legal orders.
The group said, “Section 69A and the IT Blocking Rules prevent intermediaries like Twitter from disclosing any information about blocking of an account or tweet. The confidentiality requirement present under Rule 16 of the IT Blocking Rules creates a bizarre situation where citizens have the right to challenge blocking of online content but they are unable to do so because they don’t have access to these legal orders,” said New Delhi-based advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation, explaining the limitations of this law that citizens face in the country.
The withholding of Twitter accounts came days after the peaceful protest of Indian farmers turned violent on January 26 which led to vandalism, injuries, and death. The protest sites since then have turned into a war-zone with occasional incidents of violence shaking the country.