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Centre asks Twitter & other SNS to delete posts critical of India’s Covid response

Directions issued by MEITY to “prevent obstructions in the fight against the pandemic.”

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NEW DELHI: Twitter and other social media platforms have removed about 100 posts and URLs after the Indian government asked them to remove content that was critical of its handling of the current Covid2019 crisis or spreading fake news around the pandemic.

Twitter said it has notified the impacted account holders of its action taken in response to a legal request from the Centre, while Facebook did not comment on the issue. According to media reports, the microblogging site censored tweets from a member of parliament, an actor, a former journalist, and West Bengal's minister of labour and law on the government's behest. It wasn’t immediately known what the removed posts were.

The action comes after the ministry of information and technology, on the recommendation of the ministry of home affairs, asked social media platforms to remove the posts and URLs to “prevent obstructions in the fight against the pandemic” and disruption of public order due to the said posts.

They added that the order was issued in view of the misuse of social media platforms by certain users to spread fake or misleading information and create panic about the pandemic in the society “by using unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals, communally sensitive posts and misinformation about Covid protocols”.      

Twitter removed or restricted access to more than 50 posts in the past one month at the behest of the government, including tweets that criticised its handling of the pandemic. Other posts removed showed pictures and videos of a recent Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh.       

A Twitter spokesperson said when it receives a valid legal request, it reviews it under both Twitter Rules and local law.

“If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. 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 legal requests that we receive are detailed in the biannual Twitter Transparency Report, and requests to withhold content are published on Lumen,” the spokesperson said.

Earlier this year, more than 500 accounts were suspended and access to hundreds of others in India blocked after the government ordered the microblogging platform to restrain the spread of misinformation and inflammatory content related to farmers’ protests.

India is currently dealing with one of the worst Covid2019 outbreaks globally. On Sunday, the number of new Covid infections touched 3,49,691 cases and 2,767 fatalities, according to the Union health ministry data. 

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