As farmers camp out for months against new farm laws, mainstream and social media come under unprecedented attacks.
Twitter says it is seeking talks with India’s technology minister, days after the country asked the US-based social media giant to take down 1,178 accounts it says are spreading misinformation about ongoing farmers’ protests.
New Delhi wrote to Twitter on February 4, asking it to remove the accounts, which it said were backed by archrival Pakistan or operated by sympathisers of Sikh separatists, two technology ministry sources said, adding the company had yet to comply.
India’s security agencies said some of the accounts were being operated from outside the country and were sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative content on the farmers’ protests, one of the ministry sources told Reuters news agency, declining to be named as the order was not public.
Twitter, which counts India as one of its top markets, did not comment on whether it had complied with the government’s order.
“We continue to be engaged with the government of India from a position of respect and have reached out to the Honourable Minister for a formal dialogue,” a spokeswoman for Twitter in India said, adding that the safety of its local staff was a top company priority.
Tens of thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of India’s capital New Delhi for months, demanding the withdrawal of new agriculture laws they say benefit private buyers at the expense of growers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the reforms open up new opportunities for farmers. Multiple rounds of talks between the government and the farmer leaders have failed.
Last week, India sent Twitter a notice of non-compliance, threatening its executives with jail terms and fines after the company did not obey another government order to block content that alleged Modi’s administration was trying to wipe out the protesting farmers.
The incident drew criticism of the company from members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On Monday, Twitter for the first time said it had formally acknowledged receipt of the government’s non-compliance notice.
Twitter reviews all government reports promptly and takes action while ensuring it upholds free speech, the company said.
“We strongly believe that the open and free exchange of information has a positive global impact, and that the tweets must continue to flow,” the Twitter spokeswoman said.