The central government has issued a notice to the Twitter for reinstating a number of accounts posting about ‘farmer genocide’ despite the IT Ministry directive to block these and has warned of consequences if the accounts are not taken down again.
Twitter had unilaterally reinstated several accounts, including those that posted with the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide Hashtag, on Monday night after blocking them earlier in the day on the government’s instructions.
In its notice, the government has told the social media site that Twitter is an intermediary and they are obliged to obey directions of the government, and the refusal to do so will invite penal action.
The content posted with the inflammatory hashtag was designed to inflame passions, hatred, create tensions in the society and was factually incorrect, the government said, adding that “incitement to genocide is not freedom of speech, but a threat to law and order”.
The hashtag had popped up on Twitter just days after Delhi had witnessed violence on Republic Day as protesting farmers took out a tractor rally.
The government, in its notice, has quoted more than half a dozen Supreme Court judgments, including those of Constitutional benches, as to what is public order and what are the rights of authorities.
“Twitter cannot sit as an appellate authority over the satisfaction of the authorities about its potential impact on derailing public order. It is only an intermediary,” the notice said, adding that it cannot assume the role of court and justify non-compliance.
Around 100 Twitter accounts and 150 tweets related to the farmers’ protests went off the microblogging platform on Monday morning after the IT Ministry directed Twitter to remove them under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.
Rules under 69A of the IT Act are used often in government-mandated Internet takedowns. The rules allow the government to block public access to information from a computer “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above”.
Among the accounts that were suspended include those of Kisan Ekta Morcha and Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), The Caravan magazine, Prasar Bharti CEO Sashi Shekhar Vempati, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Jarnail Singh, CPI(M) leader Md Salim, activist Hansraj Meena, and actor Sushant Singh.
“Many countries have laws that may apply to tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time,” a Twitter spokesperson had said after the accounts were blocked.