Twitter’s refusal to comply with the Indian government’s instructions to block more than 250 accounts and posts has made the social media giant the center of a political fire in one of its main markets.

Soon after Twitter’s top Indian lobbyist resigned, government officials, businessmen and ordinary netizens diverged over freedom of speech and the compliance practices of American companies.

The showdown was the latest example of the deterioration of relations between the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. social media after the company “refuses and abides” orders this week to exempt the government from positions and accounts that may incite violence. WhatsApp and other platforms.

For Twitter, the stakes are high in a country of 1.3 billion people. With millions of users there, Modi, his cabinet ministers and other leaders eagerly communicate with the public.

Farmers are increasingly protesting against the new agricultural law. Thousands of people set up camps on the outskirts of New Delhi and initiated a nationwide road blockade on Saturday.

As the prolonged crisis escalated, the government this week sought to “emergency blockade” the “provocative” Twitter hashtag “#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide” and dozens of accounts.

Twitter initially complied, but later restored most of its accounts on the grounds that “the reason was insufficient” to continue the suspension. The Ministry of Science and Technology warned the company in a letter seen by Reuters that these legal “consequences” could include fines or imprisonment, and stated that the government does not need to prove that it requested the ban on accounts.

Two sources said that Mahima Kaul, Twitter’s director of public policy, recently resigned. LinkedIn ads show that the company is looking for candidates for key government relations positions.

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Kaul did not respond to a request for comment.

Twitter confirmed Kaul’s resignation, saying that she will stay until March and is assisting with the transition, but declined to comment otherwise. The company said this week that it will deny access to content once it receives “a request for the appropriate scope from an authorized entity”.

“Not a legislator”

Free speech activists say that the government should not try to use legal provisions to restrict freedom of speech, while others believe that Twitter should comply or go to court.

An Indian social media executive said: “Twitter is playing with fire.” He was surprised by the company’s non-compliance. “If there is a legal requirement, you must delete the content. You are free to question it.”

After CEO Jack Dorsey failed to attend a committee meeting, a parliamentary group led by Modi Hindu Nationalist Party MPs warned Twitter in 2019. The year before, Dorsey was holding a poster with a poster on it that said “Smash the Brahman Patriarchy”, referring to the highest caste in Hinduism, and it became popular.

This week, Dorsey liked a tweet suggesting that the company should consider introducing farmer protest emojis, which became the topic of Indian TV news.

Meenakshi Lekhi, a legislator of the Modi Party and a member of Parliament responsible for data privacy affairs, criticized Twitter for violating government orders and added that she has not yet decided whether to call company executives.

Lekki told Reuters: “Twitter needs to understand that they are not legislators.” “It is not their policy that works, it is the country’s policy that works.”

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In an editorial on Friday, the Indian newspaper called the showdown “inevitable” and that “provocative posts have no place on any platform, but freedom of speech should not be hit.”

Prasanth Sugathan of the Software Freedom Law Center of India said: “The government’s selective approach in choosing social media companies to ban their content when it does not fit the official narrative is problematic.

“This kills freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

Thomson Reuters 2021 ©

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