In a bid to shrink the space that Kashmir and issues related to Kashmir are getting on social media, the government has directed micro-blogging network to block and withhold dozens of twitter handles and tweets.
Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked Twitter to block 19 accounts, most of these with tweets about Kashmir. On August 24, it additionally mentioned 95 tweets in various handles, also on Kashmir, which it wanted to be blocked. In an earlier communication dated August 16, the government had identified 95 accounts to be blocked, in addition to tweets, Twitter searches and hashtags.
Invoking Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the ministry wrote to Twitter on August 24 that a request from law enforcement agencies for blocking 115 Twitter handles/ tweets had been received.
A committee to examine the requests had met on August 4 and recommended blocking or removal of the tweets or accounts in the “interest of public order as well as for preventing any cognizable offence”.
Notably, under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, a committee of joint secretaries, from the ministries of IT, law and justice, home affairs, information and broadcasting and the Indian Computer Emergency Response, can decide on any content to be blocked under the IT Act.
The ministry, in this regard has asked for a compliance report from Twitter.
Most of the links accessed led either to a suspended account or a deleted tweet. But several of the mentioned links were still accessible. Twitter wrote to multiple account holders over the weekend, telling them it had got “official communication” regarding their handles and the “correspondence claims that the following tweet(s) is/are in violation of Indian law”.
A few of the handles appear to be linked to terrorist organisations like the Jamaat ud Dawa – a frontal organisation of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed – but many are of journalists, human rights activists and seemingly unaffiliated individuals.
Multiple local Kashmiri online media reported the development first. With a local web portal, in particular reported that multiple Kashmiri activists received an official complaint from Twitter and that several of them have reported that they have either been blocked or shadow banned.
“Based on recommendations of the committee and looking at the sensitivity of the request, it is hereby directed to Twitter to block/remove 115 Twitter handles/tweets in the interest of public order as well as for preventing any kind of cognizable offense…,” a letter written in this regard states.
Twitter has put both the letter and the list of Twitter content to be blocked online. According to local Kashmiri media, a number of Pakistani users have also received similar warnings from Twitter.
The email sent out by the social media company states that “The correspondence [from the government] claims that your account is in violation of Indian law. Please note we may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in future. Please let us know by replying to this email as soon as possible if you decide to voluntarily remove the content identified on your account.”
Twitter also seems to acknowledge the haziness of knowing which Twitter accounts are “Indian or Pakistani”. For instance, a tweet that allegedly “pays tribute” to a dead militant shows up with a warning sign that says “this tweet… has been withheld in India”
Amongst the 100 odd objectionable tweets and accounts, one tweet flagged was not about Kashmir at all, but instead focused on rising cow vigilante violence in India.
Interestingly, social media censorship over politically sensitive topics is not a new development.
Last year, Facebook ran into controversy over censoring Indian journalists, activists and film-makers over similar “objectionable” Kashmir content. The experience offered insight into the way social media giants view politically controversial material, the way they hand out punishments and – disturbingly – how they act as a final arbiter of what is appropriate and what is not.
In one more instance Cartoonist, Mir Suhail Qadri’s account was also disabled for several days after he uploaded his cartoon of the day, on the eve of Afzal Guru’s death anniversary. Twitter had deleted the content, terming it as “objectionable.”