MEITY orders Twitter to block accounts using 'ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide' hashtag

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Twitter blocks Indian accounts on govt orders over farm protests

Twitter on Monday "withheld" multiple accounts on its social media platform with the #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag, and making "fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets on Saturday".

The blocks, which only applied for viewers based in India, came after the Indian government hit Twitter with a legal demand.

On Monday evening, most accounts appeared to have been restored.

"The order was issued against accounts that were using the hashtag #modiplanningfarmersgenocide that started on January 30", the government source said.

Twitter said that during the meeting with the concerned officials, the company conveyed that the content is free speech and newsworthy.

Vinod Jose, editorial director of The Caravan magazine, whose official Twitter account had a following of more than 280,000 and had tweeted reporting on the farmers' protests, was also blocked along with the accounts of many farm leaders and protest supporters.

"When contacted, a Twitter spokesperson said if it receives a "properly scoped request" from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time".

A government official said the Home Affairs Ministry had demanded the suspension of "close to 250 Twitter accounts" that were allegedly posting content that sought to foment violence.

India's public service broadcaster, Prasar Bharti's CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati's is also on the list of names whose account has been withheld.

The blocks came days after peaceful protests in Delhi by farmers unhappy with government agricultural reforms turned violent for the first time on January 26.

A spokesman for the farmers said their accounts "had not done anything wrong" apart from supporting the long-running protests. "Incitement to genocide is a grave threat to public order and, therefore, the MEITY ordered blocking these Twitter accounts and tweets under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act", the source said.

The legal demand from the Indian government put Twitter, which has employees based in the country, in a hard position.

The accounts included those of newsmagazine Caravan, Kisan Ekta Morcha (the IT cell of Samyukt Kisan Morcha), tribal leader Hansraj Meena and actor Sushant Singh. "Such withholdings will be limited to the specific jurisdiction that has issued the valid legal demand or where the content has been found to violate local laws", the policy reads.

India regularly uses internet shutdowns, most recently at the farmers' protest sites, to limit information sharing during disturbances. In the same year it also suspended, permanently, the account of the American Nazi Party.

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