Tech

At Government Request, Twitter Takes Down Some Tweets Critical of Official COVID Handling

A good chunk of the tweets, which are now withheld from public view in India, criticised either the Centre's handling of the pandemic or the recent Kumbh Mela gathering.

New Delhi: Twitter has withheld from public view around 50 tweets in India, a good chunk of which criticised the manner in which the Narendra Modi government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

India is currently in the midst of a brutal ‘second wave’, with daily infections passing 300,000, and the total number of daily deaths running over 2,000.

According to Twitter’s filings with the Lumen database – a transparency initiative run by Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Centre which tracks content removal requests – the affected tweets have been taken down in response to a request by the Indian government.

The collection of tweets – which have been removed from public view in India, but can still be viewed by users in other countries – includes posts that sharply criticise the Modi government.

There are also, however, a few that appear to have spread fake news regarding the pandemic; at least one tweet reviewed by The Wire used a misleading photo to describe the impact of the second wave on India’s healthcare system.

A portion of the tweets appear to use a wide range of hashtags that call for resignation of the prime minister or imply that the second wave is a ‘ModiMadeDisaster’. Others take aim at the recent Kumbh Mela and compare it to the manner in which the Tablighi Jamaat controversy was viewed by supporters of the ruling party last year.

This development was first reported by Medianama.

Lumen Takedown Request – April 22 by The Wire on Scribd

Lumen Takedown Request – April 23 by The Wire on Scribd

Verified account tweets

Significantly, the content removal list uploaded by Twitter also includes a handful of tweets put out by verified accounts. This includes politicians like the Congress’s Revanth Reddy and Pawan Khera, and minister in the West Bengal government Moly Ghatak.

Tweets put out by filmmaker Avinash Das and filmmaker Vinod Kapri have also been removed from public view in India.

Das’s post uses a photo of patients lying in a tent and alleges that it is from the Tapi district and thus symbolic of the “Gujarat healthcare model”.

One tweet put out by ‘Syed Bukhari’, a verified account that identifies itself as the special assistant to PM of Pakistan, is also not accessible in India.

While it is unclear under what provision the Indian government has asked Twitter to take down the tweets, as The Wire has reported in the past, the IT ministry usually uses Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000.

What kind of tweets have been taken down?

Most of the tweets put out by verified accounts sharply question the Modi government. For instance, Congress MP Revanth Reddy put out a tweet on April 17, saying that India was recording over 2 lakh cases, that the healthcare system was “collapsing” and that it was a “#ModiMadeDisaster”.

A screenshot of the tweet, which now cannot be viewed within India, can be found below.

A tweet put out by Congress MP Revanth Reddy.

A tweet by Congress party spokesperson Pawan Khera which talks about the ‘collective silence’ around the Kumbh Mela and election rallies has been taken down. A post by West Bengal minister Moloy Ghatak, which refers to Modi as “Nero” and alleges that Modi underplayed the Covid-19 situation in India, has also been removed from public view.

A tweet put out by Congress’s Pawan Khera.

A tweet put out by Moloy Ghatak.