India’s government reportedly ordered Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to censor dozens of posts criticizing the administration’s response to the pandemic, arguing that they were misleading or could hinder emergency response efforts. The crackdown comes amid an unprecedented surge in covid-19 cases and deaths in India as a second coronavirus wave hits the nation with a force some health officials have likened to a “tsunami.”
Following reports from TechCrunch and Indian news site MediaNama, Indian officials confirmed with the New York Times on Sunday that the government ordered Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to take down roughly 100 posts, some of which included criticism from politicians and calls for India’s prime minister to resign. India’s government argued that these posts used images that were taken out of context and could potentially incite panic or interfere with its response to the pandemic, according to the Times.
Twitter took down several tweets in response to a legal request from the Indian government, a company spokesperson confirmed with Gizmodo on Sunday. Two such legal requests were published on Lumen, a Harvard University project that tracks government takedown notices across the globe. The first, dated April 22, lists 32 tweets, while the second, dated April 23, lists 21 tweets, both invoking the Information Technology Act of 2000 without going into further detail. Among the censored accounts include a West Bengal state minister, a sitting member of India’s Parliament, and multiple members of India’s film industry.
“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law,” a Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo in an emailed statement. “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.”
The spokesperson added that Twitter notified the affected accounts to let them know it was withholding their content in response to a legal request from India’s government.
Facebook, which also owns Instagram, did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but we’ll be sure to update this blog when they do.
Covid-19 cases have skyrocketed across India in recent weeks. On Saturday, India reported 349,691 new cases, making it the fourth consecutive day that the nation set a world record for daily infections during the pandemic, CNN reports. With 2,767 fatalities reported in the last 24 hours, India has also beaten its record for its highest daily death toll nine days in a row. Over 1 million new cases have been logged in the past three days, bringing the nation’s total to nearly 17 million, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins.