Twitter is embroiled once again in a debate about free speech and repression of Indian voices on a global platform.
Twitter last week withheld tweets from an Indian journalist Saurav das, dating back as far as November 2022. Twitter said that these tweets had been blocked globally "in response to an official demand". Das' censored Tweets merely cited remarks made by Amit Shah, India’s Home Minister, about the judiciary.
According to The Hindu, Das doesn't remember the exact context. He added that Twitter had not informed him of the action. He is considering legal action after he was not satisfied with the response to his RTI request for reasons.
This global ban is particularly important because Twitter normally responds to requests from governments or courts to restrict tweets only in the territories where these laws are applicable. Elon Musk has also been criticized for his high-minded support of Twitter's freedom of speech. Musk described the company when he purchased it as "a digital town square where a range of beliefs could be debated in an healthy manner."
India is home to the second largest internet population in the world. Twitter, as well as many other US tech firms, are keen to meet government demands to remain in India. Twitter has suspended posts and accounts in the past. It was only last January that the platform blocked links for a BBC documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the last few years, India witnessed numerous attempts to suppress press freedom and free expression, including the arrest of reporters, amendments of the RTI Act and the creation of a government fact-checking team to "verify", government-related content posted on social media.
A bill from 2022 threatens to repeal India's RTI Act, which is similar to the Freedom of Information Act in the US, and allows citizens to access records of government. Experts have warned that if it passes in India's Parliament, it would allow the government deny information to citizens under the pretext of privacy.
India has seen its ranking on the World Press Freedom Index decline since 2014, when Modi was appointed Prime Minister. In 2014, India ranked 140th out of 180 countries. Last year it dropped to 150th.
The Indian government was focused on Twitter long before Musk purchased the company. The Delhi police, under Modi's control, raided Twitter in 2021 after the platform labeled a tweet from a spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party "manipulated media."
In the tweet, it was claimed that India's largest opposition party, the Congress, used a "toolkit", to discredit the government's efforts to combat the Covid-19 epidemic.
Twitter, however, has been increasingly complying with Indian government requests to block content under Musk. On April. Musk revealed in an interview to the BBC on April 12 that Twitter censors its content in India often in order to comply with India's "extremely stringent" social media laws.
Musk stated that if we had to choose between sending our people to prison and complying with the law, then we would comply with it. Musk said, "We cannot go beyond the laws a country." Twitter users in India do not have the same rights to free speech as those in the US or other Western countries.