The Indian government has asked microblogging platform Twitter to remove over a thousand more accounts for allegedly spreading misinformation and provocative content in connection with the farmers' protest. It has said that the 1,178 listed handles have Pakistani and Khalistani users, official sources have said. The social media site is yet to completely comply with the order, they said. The company has, however, said it was respecting local laws even while "protecting its foundational principle of free expression".
Earlier, on January 31, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had sent a list of 257 handles and tweets to be blocked for similar reasons. Twitter blocked these accounts for few hours before unilaterally unblocking them shortly after.
On February 4, the ministry shared the fresh list flagged by security agencies as accounts of Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan and operating from foreign territories, threatening public order amid the farmers' protest.
"Many of these accounts were also automated bots that were used for sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative contents on farmers' protests," a source said.
A few days ago, Twitter global CEO Jack Dorsey had "liked" several tweets made by foreign-based celebrities in support of farmer protests, sources said. In view of this, the platform's defiance of the government's order to block the accounts raises several questions.
"The government also objects to Twitter CEO liking some tweets by celebrities as it raises questions on his neutrality," the source said.
A Twitter spokesperson said the platform was guided by principles of transparency and empowering the public conversation. "If we receive a valid legal request about potentially illegal content on Twitter, we review it under both the Twitter rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter's rules, the content will be removed from the service," the spokesperson said.
"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 the location only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they're aware we've received a legal order pertaining to the account. Our goal is to respect local law while protecting our foundational principles of free expression," the spokesperson said.
The Centre's latest move comes amid the "toolkit" controversy surrounding the farmer protest. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg had last week tweeted a "toolkit" which she later deleted. This document, according to the police, aimed to spread disaffection and ill-will against the government of India and sought to create disharmony among various social, religious, and cultural groups.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Saturday said there was a reason why his ministry reacted to the remarks of celebrities like Ms Thunberg.
"I think it ("toolkit") has revealed a lot. We have to wait and see what comes out. You can see there was a reason why the foreign ministry reacted to the statements which some celebrities gave out on matters on which they obviously didn't know very much," Mr Jaishankar said.