India threatened to block Twitter, raid employees: former CEO Jack Dorsey 

June 13, 2023 09:08 pm | Updated 09:08 pm IST

Former Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said that the Indian government had threatened to shut down the social media network in the country. “India is a country that had many requests of us around the farmers’ protests, around particular journalists that were critical of the government,” Dorsey said on June 12 in an interview with Breaking Points, a YouTube channel. “And it manifested in ways such as, ‘we’ll shut Twitter down in India’ — which is a very large market for us — ‘we’re going to raid the homes of your employees’ — which they did — ‘we will shut down your offices if you don’t follow suit’ — and this is India, a democratic country,” he elaborated.

Dorsey added that India had demanded “contact information” tied to certain accounts in addition to shutting them down, and speculated that the governments of India and China could apply pressure on Elon Musk to get their way on the platform, an apparent reference to Musk’s other business interests that have operations in the two countries, such as Tesla vehicles.

While Twitter has decried a search at one of its offices by Delhi Police in 2021 as a form of intimidation, neither the company nor the Indian government has previously claimed or disclosed that individual employees’ homes were at risk of being raided, or that it was threatened that Twitter would be shut down. (One anonymous IT Ministry official had told a newspaper in 2021 that employee arrests may be considered.)

“This is an outright lie by” Dorsey, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology said in a response posted on Twitter. “No one went to jail nor was Twitter ‘shutdown,’” Chandrasekhar said, saying that Twitter had continuously resisted Indian laws until July 2022, when it “finally complied”. 

“India as a sovereign nation has the right to ensure that its laws are followed by all companies operating in India,” Chandrasekhar said. “During the protests in January 2021, there was a lot of misinformation and even reports of genocide which were definitely fake.” This is an apparent reference to the baseless hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide, which the IT Ministry sought to crack down on.

Entire accounts, as opposed to individual tweets, were ordered to be taken down, such as the Twitter profile of The Caravan magazine, the profile of actor Sushant Singh, an account associated with the Kisan Ekta Morcha, and activist Hansraj Meena. While Twitter initially complied, it restored access to the accounts following free speech concerns, earning the government’s ire. 

Under Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was then the IT Minister, the firm appeared to arrive at a compromise in February 2021: individual past tweets were blocked as requested by the government, but entire accounts belonging to prominent news outlets, journalists, activists and politicians were to be left up. 

The then-IT Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney had a call with two U.S.-based Twitter executives, and a government readout of the call noted that Twitter had “complied with the substantial parts of the order” to block content, but the accounts named above remained unblocked, and remain so to this day, with the exception of the Kisan Ekta Morcha, which was ordered “withheld” in India at a different point since. 

The detente didn’t hold for long. In May 2021, Twitter labeled some tweets from accounts tied to the BJP as “manipulated media,” following which Delhi Police raided Twitter’s offices in New Delhi and Gurugram, and the IT Ministry demanded that Twitter take down these labels, and that it comply with the remaining blocking orders from earlier. The company took a few more tweets down, and called the police actions a form of intimidation.

In this time, the demands for censorship from the Indian government continued, most notably in an order to censor 857 tweets, many of which were critical of the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Claims that Twitter censored right wing voices in India have also abounded. Chandrasekhar for instance has spoken in the past of the Twitter Files, a series of disclosures of internal Twitter documents facilitated by Musk. In one instance, though, Twitter was presented by a civil society partner with a list of Twitter accounts that were said to be promoting “paid employees or possibly volunteers” of the BJP. 

However, even under previous leadership, Twitter appeared to dismiss this list, saying that after a random check of some of the accounts, the profiles appeared authentic.

Chandrasekhar’s claim that Twitter “finally complied” with remaining orders omitted two pieces of crucial context: first, that the firm continues to keep up accounts of prominent media organisations, journalists, activists and politicians whose profiles were ordered to be taken down in India; second, that Twitter sued the government in the Karnataka High Court that month for orders it characterised as illegal. 

The company continued to pursue this legal challenge under Musk, even as the company appeared to be more willing to comply with broad takedown orders — during the manhunt for the pro-Khalistani preacher Amritpal Singh, accounts of journalists such as Kamaldeep Singh Brar were taken down in India (Brar’s account is currently accessible). The Karnataka High Court in April reserved its judgment in the case. 

The government has, in past years, amended the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to introduce language that would force social media platforms to permit speech that may be against individual sites’ terms of service, but is permitted under the Constitution, a move that undercuts the concept of safe harbour, the legal immunity a platform enjoys for content posted by users, and also by extension its powers of moderation of content.

Under a forthcoming Digital India Bill, a draft of which Chandrasekhar said will release this month, the Minister said that the concept of safe harbour itself may be done away with. Meanwhile, social media platforms face increased legal exposure if they do not take down tweets featuring news about the Union Government that has been notified by a government-notified body as misinformation.

New India Assurance apologises after Tamil Nadu CM Stalin criticises ‘Hindi implementation’ circular 

A day after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin came down heavily on a circular issued by the New India Assurance, titled ‘Check Points for Hindi Implementation’, the company has apologised for inadvertently hurting any sentiments.

“We believe in promoting a diverse and peaceful workplace that values local languages and cultures. We are completely aligned with and respectful of the rich cultural legacy and linguistic variety across the length and breadth of our magnificent country. If, inadvertently, we have hurt any sentiments, We sincerely apologize for the same,” the New India Assurance company said in a post on Twitter on June 13.

Citing a circular dated April 3, Stalin had asked the company to “apologise for the disrespect shown towards non-Hindi speakers of India and non-Hindi speaking employees of New India Assurance.”

“Tamil Nadu and DMK will do everything under our power to #StopHindiImposition, as we have always strived in our history,” he had said, adding that the government will remove the “undeserving special status that Hindi enjoys everywhere in the Union Government, like Railways, Postal Department, Banking and Parliament.”

“We pay our taxes, contribute to the progress and believe in our rich heritage and this nation’s diversity. Our languages deserve to be treated equally. We will resist any attempt to replace Tamil with Hindi in our land,” Stalin had said.

The circular, which was also posted on Twitter by Stalin, comprised suggestions such as: ‘Encourage all the Employees to do more work in Hindi on the 14th of every month’, ‘Records kept in the office should be maintained in Hindi. All displayed Name Plates should be in Hindi/bilingual’, ‘Hindi word/Thoughts/Technical Insurance Terminology should be written on white board in each office so that employees get acquainted with terminology in Hindi,’ and so on.

Ahead of Opposition meet in Patna, former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s son Santosh Suman quits Bihar Cabinet

Ahead of the Opposition meet in Patna on June 23, former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s son Santosh Suman, on June 13, resigned from the Cabinet of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Suman was looking after the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Welfare Department and his resignation is seen a big set back for Kumar.

Suman tendered his resignation soon after meeting senior Janata Dal (United) leader and Finance Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary.

Asked about the reason for resignation from the Cabinet of Kumar at the crucial stage when the Opposition meet is scheduled, Suman said, “There was a lot of pressure and we were continuously asked to merge our party in JD(U) and this offer was not acceptable to our leadership. The existence of my party was under threat so Instead of merging, we thought of resigning from the Cabinet. We have struggled a lot to form the party and there was no possibility of merging it.”

He also clarified that HAM(S) will remain with Mahagathbandhan and has not left the alliance yet. Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) supremo Jitan Ram Manjhi had earlier demanded five Lok Sabha seats in the upcoming 2024 election. Manjhi was also disappointed over not getting the invitation to attend the scheduled Opposition meet in Patna.

At present, Manjhi’s HAM(S) has four MLAs in Bihar Legislative Assembly and one MLC in Bihar legislative Council. Last year when Kumar had broken the alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Manjhi had given unconditional support to the Mahagathbandhan.

The political move of Manjhi is seen as a big offer from the BJP which has forced him to take this bold step. In the month of April, Manjhi along with his son had met Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah in Delhi.

Manjhi is a known ‘party hopper’ but at the same time he is an important Dalit face. He had recently said that his son would be a better CM candidate than many in contention, in a veiled reference to speculation about RJD leader and Deputy CM Tejashwi Prasad Yadav being groomed as Kumar successor.

Reacting to the resignation, Lesi Singh, a Minister in Kumar’s Cabinet said that there would be no impact on the government. “Our leader Nitish Kumar ji had once given him the post of Chief Minister, what more respect he is expecting now. There would be no impact of his resignation on the functioning of the government. Such a leader keeps on coming and going,” Singh said at the party office.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi undertakes another truck ride, this time in U.S. 

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi recently travelled from Washington to New York in a truck and engaged in a candid conversation with the driver that centred around the everyday lives of Indian-origin truck drivers in the U.S.

Gandhi’s journey in the truck during his recent visit to the United States came days after he took a truck ride from Delhi to Chandigarh to listen to the problems of truck drivers. Continuing his journey to listen to people in India as well as overseas, the Congress leader went on a 190-km “American Truck Yatra” from Washington DC to New York with driver Taljinder Singh Vicky Gill and his companion Ranjeet Singh Banipal, a journey that ended with a scrumptious breakfast at an eatery, according to a release issued by the party.

Much like his truck ride from Delhi to Chandigarh, a candid heart-to-heart conversation centred around the everyday lives of Indian-origin truck drivers in America was the highlight of the journey, the release said.

During the ride, Gandhi noted that the trucks in the U.S. are designed keeping in mind the safety and comfort of the driver, which is not the case in India. It was highlighted during the ride that while truck drivers here at home struggle to make ends meet with meagre wages and a record price rise, their American counterparts receive dignity for their labour with decent wages.

During his conversation with Gill about the rising prices of commodities, inflation and politics in India, Gandhi noted that no religion teaches one to spread hate.

They also listened to Sidhu Moosewala’s songs along the way.

“There are a lot of lessons we can draw from the American truck industry to plan a new vision for the truck industry here in India. Indian truck drivers are the lifeline of our logistics and deserve a life of dignity too,” the statement said.

They are at the forefront of ‘Bharat Jodo’, literally, and their progress is bound to have a positive cascading effect on the entire economy of India, it added.

You cannot hide behind advisories: K.C. Venugopal slams Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia over high airfares 

Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia should take concrete action to control rising airfares rather than “hiding behind” advisories and quoting “random figures”, Congress leader K.C. Venugopal said on Tuesday (June 13), firing a fresh salvo in the war of words between them.

Venugopal and Scindia have been sparring on Twitter since Sunday over the state of the aviation sector. On Monday, the Minister had hit back at the Congress general secretary (organisation), saying he was “cherry-picking” facts to attack the BJP government while forgetting the “step-brotherly” treatment meted out to civil aviation during the UPA rule.

Tagging Scindia’s long Twitter post from Monday, Venugopal tweeted that this entire “flight price fiasco” is unravelling the “criminal extent” to which the Ministry of Civil Aviation “neglected” passenger welfare and the aviation sector.

“The more we dive deeper, the greater the mess we see. You have opened a Pandora’s box, @JM_Scindia ji,” he said. As per the Ministry’s own affidavit in the Jet Airways insolvency case, airport slots are neither assets nor rights of the airline, but mere permissions granted on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis, Venugopal said.

“In 2020, then MoS Civil Aviation @HardeepSPuri ji, in response to a Parliamentary Question, stated that Jet Airways slots were being reallocated on a temporary basis. In this case as well, if GoFirst is not using its slots, these must be allocated to other airlines on a temporary basis. Why is the govt treating the GoFirst crisis differently?” he said.

Venugopal also termed “laughable” Scindia’s assertion that the AERA (Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India) is an independent body. Venugopal said the AERA is run by a sitting IAS officer and its other officers are appointed by the government, which also determine its budget.

Is it independent in the same way that the ED, CBI and IT Department are independent, the Congress leader asked. “You conveniently skipped the part where it was the Modi government itself which hiked the excise on ATF (Aviation Turbine Fuel) from 8 per cent to 14 per cent, before scaling it back to 11 per cent. When ATF constitutes nearly half the cost of operating an aircraft, these seemingly small changes make a huge impact,” Venugopal said in his tweet on Tuesday, hitting out at Scindia.

“You cannot hide behind advisories which have no legal bearing and quote random figures that fly in the face of exorbitant prices faced by consumers on a daily basis. Unless you take concrete action, and not create paper tigers, this crisis will not be solved,” the Congress general secretary said.

Hitting back at Scindia for his criticism of the UPA government’s handling of the aviation sector, Venugopal said that as far as the growth of the aviation sector under the UPA is concerned, the number of Indians travelling by flights grew from 30.3 million on 2003-04 to 91.8 million in 2010-11. He said there was a 300% increase, facilitated by historically high levels of economic growth and the creation of the Indian middle class.

Editors Guild voices concern over ‘intimidation’ of journalists by Union Minister Smriti Irani, Kerala government

The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday (June 13) voiced concern over alleged intimidation and harassment of journalists by Union Minister Smriti Irani and the CPI(M)-led government in Kerala.

In a statement in New Delhi, the Guild claimed that Irani intimidated a journalist during her visit to her Lok Sabha constituency Amethi on June 9 and threatened to call the owners of the Hindi daily he worked for.

In a separate incident, on June 10, a senior woman journalist in Kerala was named as an accused in a First Information Report (FIR) lodged by the State police in response to a complaint filed by the Student Federation of India (SFI), the student arm of the ruling CPI(M) party.

“This trigger happy approach to browbeat and harass reporters and news camera persons undermine the freedom of the press,” the Guild said in a statement. “The minister’s threat to call newspaper owners and couch journalistic questioning as an affront to the people, was a clear intimidatory tactic,” the Guild said.

It also urged the newspapers to reinstate the journalist sacked in connection with the case. The Guild urged the CPI(M) government in Kerala to withdraw the case against the female journalist with immediate effect. “It is a matter of deep concern that mere reportage on political leaders can invite an FIR and questioning by the police,” it said referring to the Kerala incident.

In Brief:

Farmers blocked the national highway in Pipli in Haryana’s Kurukshetra district for a second day on Tuesday (June 13) over the MSP for sunflower seeds, with BKU leader Rakesh Tikait asking the State government to accept the demand or send farmers to jail. Farmer leaders at the protest site said that several rounds of talks have been held with the district administration since Monday, but so far they have not yielded any outcome.

Evening Wrap will return tomorrow. 

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