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Govt asks Twitter to restrict accounts spreading fake news on Covid-19, not due to ‘criticism of handling’ coronavirus crisis

Social media has been filled with multiple fake news which do nothing but fan panic amid the second wave of coronavirus.

India along with battling the second wave of coronavirus is also battling fakery and deceit. Some media reports have been claiming that the Centre has asked Twitter India to take down tweets which were critical of India’s handling of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Digital portal medianama on Saturday published an article claiming that Twitter accounts of MP, MLA and an Editor were restricted for being critical of government’s handling of second wave of COVID pandemic. Even at first this sounds ridiculous because unless you have lived under a rock, many, many social media users including BJP supporters have been critical to varying degrees on handling of pandemic. However, this was soon picked up by other portals.

Crediting Medianama, Scroll claimed that several tweets on the alleged “ground-reality” have been taken down by Twitter on a legal request by the Government of India. 

Quoting Twitter’s response to Medianama’s queries on its action, the reply read, “upon receiving a legal request, the platform reviews content under rules set by it and the local laws.”

It is imperative to note that nowhere has Twitter India in its response mentioned that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has asked the company to take down tweets “criticizing the government” as claimed by Medianama and certain twitter users.

Since then, the users who received a reply from Twitter Legal informing them of their problematic tweets have been alleging that the action was taken by the platform on being prompted by the Central government to suppress criticism. 

Twitter user alleges suppression of information. Furthers fake news by the Scroll

MeitY’s response

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has asked social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, to remove content and posts that were found to be “spreading misinformation and public panic” around the pandemic.

Sources said that the flagged posts carried misleading information about the Covid-19 pandemic, and were being circulated with an intention to incite public panic.

Recently, a Kashmiri journalist identified as Aarif Shah posted a photograph of an old lady hooked to an oxygen cylinder while sitting on the road. The same image was shared by the RVCJ group, TMC’s official Twitter handle of ‘Banglar Gorbo Mamata’ and soon went viral.

Aarif deleted the post after backlash.

On reverse searching the image, it was found that the photograph was from the 2018 ANI report where a man was allegedly made to wait for an ambulance at Agra Medical College while carrying an oxygen cylinder on his shoulder. The photograph was taken when he kept the cylinder down for a while.

The report is from 2018. Image Source: Screenshot from ANI’s 2018 report

Twitter’s response

Explaining the procedure, a Twitter spokesperson said, “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.”

Twitter ahead of withholding the content, notify the account holders so that they’re aware that the action has been taken in response to a legal request from the Government of India.

Fake and provocative Tweets float during Farmers protests

Similar allegations were made on the Central government when the farmers’ protest was at its peak claiming the government was trying to strangulate the agitation in February this year.

However, even then The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had asked Twitter to block around 250 Tweets/Twitter accounts which making fake, intimidatory and provocative Tweets using #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag.

The tweets were an incitement to genocide which could have posed as a grave threat to public order and therefore the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) ordered for blocking of these Twitter accounts and Tweets under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

In another notice to social media giant Twitter, the centre directed the social media platform to block 1,178 accounts found to be from Pakistan peddling Khalistani secessionism.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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