December 9, 2023

In fresh notice, govt asks Twitter to block 1200 accounts ‘flagged as Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan’

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“However, Twitter has not yet complied with this order,” senior government officials said

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has sent a fresh list of nearly 1200 accounts to Twitter, asking it to either suspend or block them in India, sources said. These accounts –– the new notice sent on February 4 –– said, “were flagged by security agencies as accounts of Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan”.

“Many of these accounts were also automated bots that were used for sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative contents on farmers protests. However, Twitter has not yet complied with this order,” senior government officials said, asking not to be named.

Apart from the notice, government officials also said the government had noted that the social media platform’s global Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey had ‘liked’ some tweets by foreign celebrities made in support of the ongoing farmer protests against the new farm laws.

“If the platform does not want to respond to the notices sent by us, they are free to challenge it legally and get a stay order from the court. But until then they are bound by the laws of the country and will have to block these accounts as per the notice,” an official said.

The new list is in addition to an old list of 257 accounts sent to Twitter as a part of a notice on January 31 in which the IT ministry had asked the platform to block these handles and certain hashtags used by them. The January 31 notice had said that these handles had been “spreading misinformation” about the ongoing farmer protests, which had the potential to “lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country”.

Twitter had then responded by blocking some of the accounts but had also subsequently unblocked these accounts, which had irked the IT ministry. Later in its reply, Twitter had refused to block these accounts further citing freedom of speech on its platform. The reply, however, had not gone down well with the government, which had said that the platform could not possibly “assume the role of a court and justify non-compliance”.

“It may be noted that the impracticability or disproportionality of the said measure cannot be decided at the instance of Twitter which is an intermediary bound by the orders of the Central Government. It may further be noted that the banning of the said hashtag is accompanied by the content that is attached to the said hashtag by the users using the same,” IT ministry had said in its response to Twitter refusing to ban the said accounts.

The notices have been sent to Twitter under 69A of the Information Technology Act, which says the central government or any of its officers authorised by it can “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence” direct any agency or intermediary to block access to its services and accounts to residents within the geographical limits of India.

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