The government has asked social media platforms to take down around 100 posts which it believes were done to create panic about the COVID-19 situation in India by using unrelated, communally sensitive posts and misinformation, The Hindu has learnt.
On April 24, microblogging website Twitter had removed over 50 posts from its platform following orders from the government. The majority of these tweets were critical of the Centre’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as India grappled with a record number of cases amid shortage of beds and medical oxygen.
When contacted, an official of the Minister of Electronics and IT (MeitY) said, “The Ministry, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Home Affairs, has asked social media platforms to remove around 100 posts or URLs.”
The official said this was done in view of the misuse of these platforms by certain users to spread fake or misleading information and create panic about the COVID19 situation in India by using unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals, communally sensitive posts and misinformation about COVID-19 protocols.
“This decision has been taken to prevent obstructions in the fight against the pandemic and escalation of public order due to these posts,” the official added.
As per the order received by Twitter, some of the verified accounts for which the tweets have been removed include, Congress Spokesperson Pawan Khera, Member of Parliament Revanth Reddy, a Minister from West Bengal Moloy Ghatak, ABP News editor Pankaj Jha, Actor Vineet Kumar Singh, filmmaker Avinash Das and filmmaker and former journalist Vinod Kapri.
Many of the removed tweets had content related to shortage of medicine, beds, mass cremations, and the gathering of crowds at Kumbh Mela amid the pandemic. While blocked for viewing in India, these tweets will continue to remain visible outside the country.
The details of the order received by Twitter were put up on the Lumen database, a project of the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet & Society at Harvard University that collects and analyses requests to remove material from the web. This was first reported by technology news website Medianama .
Defending the order, the official said, “Government welcomes criticisms, genuine requests for help as well as suggestions in the collective fight against COVID-19, but it is necessary to take action against those users who are misusing social media during this grave humanitarian crisis for unethical purposes.”
“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that in all cases, the company notifies the account holder directly so they’re aware that Twitter received a legal order pertaining to the account. “We notify the user[s] by sending a message to the email address associated with the account[s], if available,” the spokesperson said.