India’s demand to block accounts amid farmers’ stir curtails free speech: X

Social media platform takes down certain accounts and posts following the government orders, adding that it disagrees with the action.

India farmers protest
A Sikh protester rides a horse as farmers protest outside New Delhi for better crop prices [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Social media platform X says it has taken down certain accounts and posts following an order by the Indian government, which local media reports say are linked to ongoing protests by farmers demanding higher prices for crops.

The platform, formerly known as Twitter, did not provide details of the removals but on Thursday said it disagrees with the action and that the move amounts to curtailing freedom of expression.

The action puts the spotlight again on the struggles faced by foreign technology giants operating in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has often criticised Google, Facebook and X for not doing enough to tackle what it calls fake or “anti-India” content.

Many users have complained their social media accounts are either blocked or face restrictions in India.

X said its position on the matter was consistent with its ongoing legal challenge against the Indian government’s orders to block content.

“We will withhold these accounts and posts in India alone; however, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts,” X’s Global Government Affairs team said in a post, without naming the accounts.

The statement comes following a week of protests by thousands of Indian farmers who have camped 200km (125 miles) north of New Delhi after police blocked their march to the capital and fired tear gas at crowds trying to press forward.

The Hindustan Times newspaper reported that the “emergency” blocking orders issued last week by the government cover accounts of some farmers’ groups and supporters.

Jairam Ramesh, a legislator from the main opposition Congress party, said in a post on X the move represented the “murder of democracy in India”.

The Indian government is yet to issue a statement on the matter.

The X’s Global Government Affairs said legal restrictions do not allow it to publish government orders but the platform wants to maintain transparency.

“Due to legal restrictions, we are unable to publish the executive orders, but we believe that making them public is essential for transparency. This lack of disclosure can lead to a lack of accountability and arbitrary decision-making,” it said, adding that a writ appeal challenging the government’s “remains pending”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies