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Govt asks social media companies to remove more posts on Covid-19

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on Sunday asked social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others to remove about 100 posts and some content that it alleged were “unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals, communally sensitive posts and misinformation about COVID19 protocols”, sources in the IT ministry said.

“When the entire country is putting up a brave fight against Covid-19 pandemic, some people are misusing social media to create panic. The ministry has asked these URLs (uniform resource locator) to be removed to prevent obstructions in fight against the pandemic and escalation of public order due to these posts,” a senior IT ministry source said.

The latest communication was sent by MeitY was based on recommendations of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which flagged these URLs as “communally sensitive”.

Defending its latest removal notice sent to the social media platform, senior officials in the ministry said that while social media could and was being used to criticise the government, seek help and even offer suggestions on handling of Covid-19 pandemic, it was also “necessary to take action against those users who are misusing social media during this grave humanitarian crisis for unethical purposes”.

The action by MeitY comes a day after Twitter reported it had taken down or restricted access to over 50 tweets flagged by the Central government, through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in the past one month.

The global micro-blogging platform had submitted this information to the Lumen Database, an independent research project which studies cease and desist letters surrounding online content.

As per the information submitted by Twitter on the Lumen Database, some of the URLs whose access has now been blocked in India, contained information about the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic and were critical of the government’s handling of the same. Some other posts and URLs, on the other hand, showed pictures and videos of the recent Maoist ambush in Chattisgarh that left as many as 22 police personnel dead.

The tweets were sent by a journalist with a leading daily, a filmmaker, a Member of Parliament, a Member of Legislative Assembly, and an actor. All these tweets have been withheld in India, which means that Twitter users in the country would not be able to view their content.

Earlier this year, in January and February, Twitter had been in the crosshairs of the IT Ministry after the social media giant had initially refused to take down certain tweets about farmer protests flagged by the ministry.

Twitter had then sought to explain its stand on why it did not remove certain tweets despite being asked by the ministry. The defiance of government orders, however, did not sit well with the IT Ministry, which threatened to jail Twitter India employees if the platform failed to act. Twitter India backed down, and later said it had complied with 95 per cent of requests that the government had made.

The first list of 257 such accounts was sent by the ministry on January 31, which was followed by another list of nearly 1,200 accounts. Both lists sent by the IT Ministry claimed that these Twitter handles had been “spreading misinformation” about the farmers’ protest, which had the potential to “lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country”.

Twitter had responded by blocking some of the accounts, but had later unblocked them — a decision which irked the IT ministry.

The platform has several times said that it reviews each such take-down report from the government “as expeditiously as possible”, and takes appropriate action in line with the fundamental values of the company and its “commitment to protecting the public conversation”.


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