On Centre’s Request, Twitter Blocks Accounts, Tweets Over Kashmir Content

Kashmiri users and activists have received official legal complaints from Twitter, warning that their online content could be acted upon in the future as well.

A copy of the letter the IT ministry sent to Twitter. Credit: Lumen database.

A copy of the letter the IT ministry sent to Twitter. Credit: Lumen database.

New Delhi: Twitter has received a complaint from the Modi government, asking it block over 100 accounts and tweets that have been found “propagating objectionable content”. Most of the content and accounts appear to involve Kashmir and Kashmiri issues. 

It’s unclear on how many accounts or tweets Twitter has officially blocked. Many of the tweets linked in the official complaint from the ministry of electronics and information technology are still accessible while others lead to suspended accounts.

A few of the handles appear to be linked to terrorist organisations like the Jamaat ud Dawa – a front of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed – but many are of journalists, human rights activists and seemingly unaffiliated individuals.

Multiple local Kashmiri online media reported the development first. WithKashmir.Org in particular reported that multiple Kashmiri activists received an official complaint from Twitter and that several of them have reported that they have either been blocked or shadowbanned.

A partial list of the accounts and tweets the Modi government wanted blocked.

A partial list of the accounts and tweets the Modi government wanted blocked.

On August 24, 2017, the IT ministry sent a letter to Twitter, asking the company to block the content under Section 69A of the IT Act.

“Based on recommendations of the committee and looking at the sensitivity of the request, it is hereby directed to Twitter to block/remove 115 Twitter handles/tweets in the interest of public order as well as for preventing any kind of cognizable offense…,” the letter states.

Twitter has put both the letter and the list of Twitter content to be blocked online. According to local Kashmiri media, a number of Pakistani users have also received similar warnings from Twitter.

The email sent out by the social media company states that “The correspondence [from the Modi government] claims that your account is in violation of Indian law. Please note we may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in the future. Please let us know by replying to this email as soon as possible if you decide to voluntarily remove the content identified on your account.”

Twitter also seems to acknowledge the haziness of knowing which Twitter accounts are “Indian or Pakistani”. For instance, a tweet that allegedly “pays tribute” to a dead militant shows up with a warning sign that says “this tweet… has been withheld in India”

Amongst the 100 odd objectionable tweets and accounts, one tweet flagged was not about Kashmir at all, but instead focused on rising cow vigilante violence in India.

Social media censorship

Meanwhile, legal and cyber experts have decried the online censorship attempt, with Centre for Internet and Society policy director Pranesh Prakash calling it caving in to unlawful government censorship.

Social media censorship over politically controversial topics is not a new development.

Last year, Facebook ran into controversy over censoring Indian journalists, activists and film-makers over similar “objectionable” Kashmir content. As The Wire had reported at the time, that experience offered insight into the way  social media giants view politically controversial material, the way they hand out punishments and – disturbingly – how they act as a final arbiter of what is appropriate and what is not.