Outrage after India orders Twitter to remove critical Covid posts

Kolkata, India: Thousands in India are outraged after the nation's central government reportedly ordered social media giant Twitter to remove posts critical to its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the BBC reported

A Twitter spokesperson confirmed that some content had been blocked in India, following the order. 

Twitter announced on Lumen -- a website that keeps track of global government orders around online content -- that the government issued an emergency order to censor the tweets.

According to the BBC report, the material removed by Twitter includes a tweet from a West Bengal politician holding Prime Minister Narendra Modi directly responsible for Covid deaths, as well as a tweet from an actor criticizing Mr. Modi for holding political rallies while the virus was raging.

Twitter said it checked content when it received a fair legal order – the Indian government is said to have cited the Information Technology Act 2000 in this case.

"If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only," the platform said.

According to an Indian official, the information in question is misleading or may cause panic.

He clarified that fake news was exacerbating the situation and that social media posts had to adhere to the rule of law.

An official from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had previously told The Hindu newspaper that "action against those who are misusing social media... for unethical purposes" was "appropriate."

However, several people on social media chastised the government for insisting on "censorship" when the country was experiencing a "humanitarian crisis."

"We cannot allow fake news that harms the country," BJP national spokesperson Gopal Agarwal told the BBC.

Both Twitter and the GOI have received criticisms from social media users. 

One Twitter user accused the government of "finding it easier to take down tweets than ensure oxygen supplies".


Many people on the internet have chastised Twitter for complying with the order, labeling them "complicit."


 


 

This is not the first time Twitter came under the fire for bowing down to the orders from the increasingly authoritarian Indian government.

After the government released a legal notice, Twitter blocked more than 500 accounts associated with ongoing farmer protests against agricultural reforms in February. If Twitter had not complied, employees in India may have faced jail time.

Amid crisis

The country is dealing with a huge influx of cases, with many hospitals running out of oxygen. The government, according to one Twitter user, "finds it easier to take down tweets than to ensure oxygen supplies."

For the fifth day in a row, India set a new global high for daily coronavirus cases, with 352, 991. 

The unprecedented crisis comes after the Indian government claimed it had defeated the virus earlier this year.

By mid-February, the number of new cases had dropped to 11,000, vaccines were being exported, and India was "in the endgame" of the pandemic, according to the health minister.

However, the advent of new variants, as well as mass gatherings, such as the Kumbh Mela festival, which attracted millions of pilgrims earlier this month, have resulted in an increase in cases since then.

World critical of India's COVID-19 handling

The international press's assessment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's handling of the coronavirus pandemic must be damaging reading for the image-conscious Prime Minister, the Telegraph wrote

The global press turned the guns to the central government, alleging it of being complacent during the send wave currently jolting the nation. 

World media has been explicitly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's handling of the pandemic with media reports lambasting the PM. 

International newspapers have splashed pictures of large crowds of mask-less devotees pressed against each other on their front pages, accusing the Indian government of lacking the confidence to call off the meeting for fear of alienating their Hindu supporters.

In the eyes of the world press, Modi has gone from hero to zero in the battle against Covid-19, as regular infections have risen to new highs.

According to the verdict of the international media, after claiming to have skilfully ridden the first Covid wave with one of the world's strictest national lockdowns, Modi has been engulfed by the second.

Headlines like: “Modi flounders in India’s gigantic second wave,” in The Times, London, criticized the PM as India COVID-19 cases barrelled past 300,000 on a daily basis. 

The New York Times slammed the government's response to the current coronavirus outbreak, saying it "understood the air of complacency and denial that has dogged his government's response to the epidemic."

“The system has collapsed: India’s descent into Covid hell,” said a blistering headline in The Guardian, which led its main story with a photo of flames soaring high in a crematorium.

The major media outlet added: “Many falsely believed that the country had defeated Covid. Now, hospitals are running out of oxygen and bodies are stacking up in morgues.”

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