India’s government threatens to jail Twitter employees unless they block critics

After initially blocking the accounts, Twitter reversed its decision, saying the tweets constituted free speech and were newsworthy. In response, the IT ministry ordered them blocked again. “Twitter is an intermediary and they are obliged to obey directions of the government. Refusal to do so will invite penal action,” it told Twitter in a notice. It added that the hashtag was being used to “abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds.”

The Caravan, which didn’t use the hashtag, said it was merely doing its job. “We don’t understand why suddenly the Indian government finds journalists should not speak to all sides of an issue,” executive editor Vinod K. Jose, told BuzzFeed News. “This is really problematic,” added internet activist and MediaNama editor Nikhail Pahwa.

Modi’s government was also incensed by western celebrities including Rhianna and Greta Thunberg who tweeted their support. Some Modi supporters railed against the tweets, including Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut. “No one is talking about it because they are not farmers, they are terrorists who are trying to divide India,” she wrote.

The latest development means Twitter, once again, must choose to either protect its employees and commercials interests, or be accused of aiding censorship in a volatile political situation. However, it may be forced to comply due to India’s IT laws that force social media platforms to remove “any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource” that could affect “public order.”

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