Several tweets from social media accounts belonging to the Aam Aadmi Party, Indian National Congress, and a Bharatiya Janata Party politician were withheld by Twitter in India in response to legal notices sent by the Election Commission of India (ECI). The tweets of BJP Youth National General Secretary Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga were withheld for allegedly promoting disharmony between two groups (Sec 153A).
In regards to AAP and INC, the ECI in its takedown requests to Twitter said that the tweets were in violation of the provisions of Section 126 (1) (b) of the Representative of the People Act, 1951, which prohibits the display of any election matter after the end of campaigning, and in between the 48 hours leading up to the polling day. Some of the tweets were also in violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Elections are currently underway in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur.
MediaNama has seen public disclosures of the government orders made available by Twitter to the Lumen Database. This website receives and publishes disclosures by private entities, including social media companies, on the legal takedown notices they get from governments and other entities across the world.
The lack of transparency when it comes to takedown requests issued by the Indian government signals that the online space for exercising fundamental rights such as freedom of speech is shrinking.
AAP tweets alleging scam by Congress candidate in Goa withheld
As many as 12 tweets from the official handle of AAP (with 5.8 million followers) and AAP Goa (with over 45,000 followers) were restricted in the subcontinent, according to the disclosure. It is important to note that the tweets are available for viewing in other countries.
What did the tweets say? The tweets referred to a video report by a news channel that alleged that a Congress candidate in Goa was accepting bribes and that he had reportedly said that he had good ties with the BJP.
Four tweets from BJP Youth National General Secretary Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga were censored. He had tweeted morphed pictures of former Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat with Islamophobic content. Two tweets posted by INC – Youth Punjab pertained to election promotion material in relation to the Punjab Assembly polls, the disclosure revealed.
Tweets on Prime Minister’s security breach taken down upon government request
In January, Twitter took down a few tweets on the alleged security breach that left Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his convoy stranded on a flyover in Punjab. The takedown request was made by the Indian government on the grounds that the tweets violated the Information Technology Act, 2000.
Out of the ten tweets that were taken down, seven of them used the hashtag #KhalistanReferendum, many of them had pictures of Modi’s cavalcade stranded on the flyover in Punjab, and had a general message which echoed anti-BJP sentiments. Few of them had seemingly pro-secessionist views on Punjab.
Earlier, around 24 tweets and accounts that put up pro-secessionist content pertaining to Kashmir and Punjab were withheld in India by Twitter as it complied with legal requests made by Indian authorities under the IT Act on July 22. Some of the accounts that were withheld criticised India’s handling of the Kashmir situation. A few tweets made in the context of the Sulli Deals controversy were also withheld.
This content, which is now inaccessible to Indian users, includes the accounts of —
- Carin Jodha Fischer, a German national who was deported from India in 2016
- Kashmir University’s Students’ Union which has been inactive since 2019
- Tweets of Pakistani nationals who have used hashtags that blame Indian authorities for violence in Jammu and Kashmir, among others.
- What we know about the Indian govt FAQs on the controversial IT Rules
- How many Indian govt information requests did Twitter comply with?
- Summary: Information Technology Rules 2021, and Intermediaries and social media platforms
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