Twitter has reportedly blocked 122 accounts belonging to journalists, authors, and politicians in India after receiving legal requests from the Indian government, according to a report by Rest of World.
The government issued a request for an additional 29 Twitter accounts to be blocked, following a police crackdown and a subsequent internet shutdown in the north Indian state of Punjab to arrest separatist figure, Amritpal Singh Sandhu.
The Indian government has a history of censoring social media platforms, with Twitter, Facebook, and Google being asked to take down content on multiple occasions. In 2020, the Indian government banned TikTok and other Chinese apps, citing national security concerns.
The government has also used the Information Technology Act of 2000 to charge individuals with sedition, defamation, and hurting religious sentiments. However, many have criticised the law for being vague and having a chilling effect on free speech.
The blocked Twitter accounts including that of many journalists appear as mostly blank pages with a disclaimer that reads “[Username]’s account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.”. However, these accounts remain accessible outside of India. Some affected journalists claim they did not receive an email from Twitter prior to their account being withheld, which goes against Twitter's guidelines for notifying affected users.
According to Twitter’s guidelines, the platform attempts to notify banned users via their registered email address or through a notification in the app as the process to appeal a block, especially in the case of a legal demand, such as the one made by the Indian government requires users to respond to Twitter’s email, but most of the accounts blocked this week never received an email.
While this isn't the first time such a request would be made, Twitter had in the past pushed back against such demands, according to Prateek Waghre, policy director at digital rights advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation. In June 2022, Twitter initiated legal action against the Indian government over a series of orders to block content on the platform.
Twitter’s move has since been criticised by many saying the move is a clear contradiction of CEO Elon Musk's many comments about ‘free speech’ on the platform.
Several digital rights activists have called on Twitter to be more transparent about its compliance with government requests and to push back against such demands.