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After Centre's Warning, Twitter Blocks Accounts with 'Khalistani' Links But Adds 'Free Speech' Rider

File photo of farmers taking part in a protest against new farm laws in Patiala. (PTI)

File photo of farmers taking part in a protest against new farm laws in Patiala. (PTI)

Twitter was told that action would be taken against the company under Section 69A [3] of the IT Act, which talks about a jail term of up to seven years for senior company officials, and a financial penalty.

Under pressure over 'farmer genocide' remarks made by alleged Khalistani supporters on micro-blogging site, Twitter has finally started blocking accounts flagged by the Centre for "carrying inflammatory and divisive comments".

A Times of India report quoted top sources as saying that Twitter has assured the government that it is looking into its concerns, and taking stock of the content on the handles mentioned in the notice sent by the IT Ministry under Section 69A of the IT Act.

The sources were further quoted as saying that of the 257 handles that had originally tweeted with the 'farmer genocide' hashtag, 126 have been deactivated. Just a few days ago, Twitter had blocked them, before activating them almost immediately citing "free speech" and because it found the content "newsworthy". It has now blocked many of them again.

The micro-blogging site, however, said it had not taken any action on accounts of media, journalists, activists and politicians as it violated "the right to freedom of expression under Indian law".

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"We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve. We are exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow," the company said in a blog post.

ALSO READ: Govt Asks Twitter to Block 1,178 More Accounts With 'Khalistani' Links, Unhappy with Founder Taking Sides

Similarly, of the 1,178 handles that the government suspected to have links with Khalistani and Pakistani elements to spread misinformation and provocative content, 583 have been deactivated, the report stated.

Twitter on Monday had said that it has reached out to electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad for a formal talk and it had shared an update with the government after it was sent a notice for not complying with an order to restrict access to some accounts.

Twitter was told that action would be taken against the company under Section 69A [3] of the IT Act, which talks about a jail term of up to seven years for senior company officials, and a financial penalty.

The microblogging platform had restored access to 257 accounts it had temporarily blocked after a government order, getting into a confrontation with the ministry. The government then sent a notice saying Twitter was not in a position to judge the order and that it was an intermediary liable to follow directions as per the law, which could include penal provisions.

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey's recent decision to like some of the tweets made in support of the farmers protest also did not go down well with the government which felt that the act raised questions over the neutrality of the social media platform.

"If the founder of Twitter is openly taking sides, it does raise question over the neutrality of the platform and how it deals with India's requests related to the subject," an earlier Times of India report quoted a top source in the government as saying.

first published:February 10, 2021, 09:08 IST