Twitter globally took down tweets from Indian users in response to an order from the Punjab & Haryana High Court issued in February, according to information from the social media platform provided to Saurav Das, a transparency activist and journalist whose posts were removed from the platform recently. The Hindu has seen a copy of the notice, sent to Mr. Das after he filed a complaint with Twitter under provisions of the IT Rules, 2021.
It is uncommon for Twitter to take down content globally in response to a regional request, especially when the reported content is not illegal in other parts of the world. The Hindu first reportedthe global takedown of Mr. Das’s tweets on April 8. Only one other instance has been recorded of a global takedown from a regional request for content that didn’t otherwise break Twitter’s own rules, in what the company said was due to a product error. This was in 2017.
The Punjab & Haryana High Court Bench of Justices G.S. Sandhawalia and Harpreet Kaur Jeewan that ordered the takedowns did not mention Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who the removed tweets by Mr. Das quoted. A review of the court orders in the case reveals that the matter is a suo motu contempt proceeding initiated by the court against three individuals. The court ruled that the three individuals were tarnishing its reputation with certain remarks.
Mr. Das is not one of those three individuals, and the court orders don’t mention Mr. Shah. While it is unclear how these tweets ended up in the proceeding, Twitter — which was represented by four advocates in hearings — seems to have complied with the global takedown order.
The court had relied on a global takedown that was ordered against Facebook in 2019 by the Delhi High Court as precedent for issuing this order. Another tweet by Balwinder Sekhon, one of the respondents in the case, was also “withheld in: Worldwide,” according to a message on Twitter. The Hindu was not able to verify if tweets from a third account that were ordered to be removed by the court were indeed removed, as the account has since been deleted or deactivated.
The notification by Twitter was sent on February 20, according to a copy of the email provided to Mr. Das this month. “Since I had nothing to do with the suo-motu criminal contempt case against the two contemnors, currently serving jail time of 6 months, the court couldn’t have ordered censoring without informing me or making me a party to the case with a fair opportunity to defend my speech,” Mr. Das said in a Twitter post on Saturday.
“Can Indian courts order blocking access to content on a global scale,” Mr. Das asked. “What might be considered “offending” here in India may not be so in the United States or Britain.”