Twitter has blocked four accounts in India – including one belonging to Canadian-Punjabi singer Jazzy B, who has frequently tweeted in support of farmers protesting the government’s agriculture laws and, in December last year, joined thousands camped on the borders of the national capital.
The accounts were blocked – they have been ‘geo-restricted’, meaning they can still be accessed from IP addresses outside the country – after a legal demand from the government on Sunday.
An official statement from Twitter is expected shortly but, in its ‘Help Center’ section, Twitter states: “… if we receive a valid and 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.”
“Such withholdings will be limited to the specific jurisdiction that has issued the valid legal demand or where the content has been found to violate local law(s).”
According to technology news website TechCrunch, all four accounts have posted material critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government or in protest against the farm laws.
Twitter posted confirmation of its action on the Lumen database – an online archive that analyses legal complaints and requests for removal of content to ensure transparency.
This is not the first time Twitter has been told to block accounts tweeting on the farmers’ protests.
In February around 250 accounts – including that of Caravan magazine, against whose editors Delhi Police had filed an FIR relating to the Republic Day violence, other journalists and opposition leaders – were blocked for several hours after a “legal demand” from the government.
Sources said the request came from the Home Ministry and law enforcement agencies, and was made to prevent “escalation of law and order (situation) in view of the ongoing farmer agitation.
The blocking of accounts this week comes amid pressure on Twitter to comply with new rules for social media firms; rules Twitter has flagged as “a potential threat to freedom of expression”.
On Monday the company – which faced raids by the Delhi Police last month after it tagged a BJP leader’s tweet as “manipulated media” – said it needed more time to comply with these rules.
That was after a thinly-veiled threat last month; the government warned Twitter to “stop beating around the bush and comply” instead of “dictating terms” to the world’s largest democracy.
Ostensibly designed to make companies like Twitter and Facebook more accountable for content posted on their websites, the rules have been criticised as an example of the Modi government’s efforts to silence criticism and freedom of expression or speech.
The government, in turn, has criticised Twitter for trying to undermine the country’s legal system by its actions and deliberate defiance, and returned the ‘muzzling of free speech’ allegation.
Non-compliance with the new IT rules will result in Twitter losing the intermediary status that grants immunity from liabilities over third-party data they hosted.
In other words, they could be liable for criminal action in case of complaints.
Besides Twitter, the new rules have also spurred a legal challenge from Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has said the government is exceeding its legal powers by enacting rules that will force the messaging app to break end-to-end message encryption.