In a surprising development, Twitter has withheld the account of the Caravan magazine in India “in response to a legal demand”. The accounts of activists Md Asif Khan and Hansraj Meena, actor Sushant Singh, Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, Marxist leader Mohammed Salim, and Kisan Ekta Morcha handle have suffered the same fate.
Vinod Jose, executive editor of the Caravan, said Twitter did not notify them about the move beforehand. “We have no idea [about why this has happened]. We have no public or private information. We are waiting to know why they have withheld the account,” he added.
According to , if the social media giant receives a “valid request” from an authorised entity, “it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country. 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 laws”.
The policy also explains when the message “account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand” pops up, it means the company was compelled to withhold the account in response to a valid legal demand such as a court order”. The legal request can be filed by a law enforcement agent, government official, or a third party who would like to have potentially illegal content or accounts removed from Twitter.
Newslaundry contacted Twitter India for a comment on the freezing of these accounts.
In response, a Twitter spokesperson said, “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. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing, so e.g. if we receive a court order under seal).”
UPDATE: According to the news agency ANI, the ministry of electronics and information technology directed Twitter to block about 250 tweets and Twitter accounts for using "Modi Planning Farmer Genocide" hashtag and allegedly making fake, intimidatory and provocative posts on January 30.
There are several verified accounts that used the hashtag and remain active – ; National Students Union of India leaders , , ; RTI activist , Congress member , Rashtriya Loktantrik Party leader .
Curiously, several of the accounts frozen by Twitter did not use the hashtag at all.
Newslaundry went through all the tweets posted on January 30 by the Caravan, Kisan Ekta Morcha, Hansraj Meena, Vempati, Salim, Asif, and Sushant. Here’s what we found.
The news magazine did not use the hashtag even once on January 30. It posted old and new stories, and subscription appeals. Here are the only stories related to the farmer protests the magazine tweeted out that day.
Kisan Ekta Morcha
The farmer organisation also didn’t use the contentious hashtag. The hashtags it did use that day were “Farm Laws”, “Kisan Andolan”, “Farmers Protests”, “Rakesh Tikait”, “Gazipur Border”, “Internet Ban”, and “Tikri Border”.
The activist also did not use the hashtag. He used “Mahatma Gandhi”, “Boycott Jio”, “Release Journalist Mandeep Punia”, and “Modi Where Are Missing Farmers”.
Shashi Shekhar Vempati
The Prasar Bharati CEO linked to the contentious hashtag in his tweet but only to question Twitter why it was allowing the “violent hashtag” to trend.
After his account was frozen on Monday and shortly restored, he congratulated Twitter on taking action on the matter.
Salim did tweet the hashtag while commenting on the news of the blast near the Israeli embassy in Delhi.
Md Asif Khan
He used the hashtag as well, in a post containing a picture that shows a group of people pelting stones while the police stand back.
While the actor did not tweet the hashtag himself, he did retweet someone else's post that called for people to use the hashtag and “support farmers”.
By Monday night, the Twitter accounts of the Caravan, Kisan Ekta Morcha, Tractor to Twitter, Asif, Meena and Sushant had been restored.
This is a developing story. We'll update it if and when more details become available.