India’s government asks Twitter to remove posts critical of its handling of the pandemic

The Indian government has asked Twitter to remove several tweets that have criticized its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a statement released on Sunday.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it had taken the action, “in view of the misuse of social media platforms by certain users to spread fake or misleading information and create panic about the Covid-19 situation in India by using unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals, communally sensitive posts and misinformation about Covid-19 protocols.”

The government statement said it asked Twitter to remove around 100 posts or URLs, following recommendations from the Ministry of Home Affairs, saying: 

“It is pertinent to mention that at a time, when the entire country is putting up a brave and honest effort to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, certain people are misusing social media to create panic in society.”

“The 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,” the statement said.

The move comes as India’s prime minister faces mounting anger as Covid-19 cases and deaths continue to rise, creating a massive public health crisis across the nation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi only addressed the nation on the situation for the first time last week, having held political rallies and largely downplayed the second wave’s urgency in the weeks before.

India reported 352,991 new cases and 2,812 virus-related deaths Monday, marking the world’s highest daily caseload for the fifth straight day. 

A Twitter spokesperson told CNN on Monday in a statement that it has withheld some of those tweets, following a legal request by the Indian government.

“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both Twitter rules and local law,” the spokesperson said, adding:

“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.” 

“In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware that we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account,” the Twitter statement added.

The requests to withhold content are published on the Lumen database, a Harvard University project.

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