How is Modi deceiving India

Corona crisis in IndiaCriticism of government? Deleted.

The number of corona sufferers is increasing massively in India, and the situation in hospitals is worsening. The government's current corona policy has therefore been heavily criticized from many sides, including the opposition. The Indian government is trying to counter this, it has asked Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to delete over 100 posts criticizing its handling of the pandemic.

The Lumen transparency project has disclosed the requests from the Indian government and published the URLs of the posts that should be blocked. According to the government, the posts fueled panic, were out of context and would prevent fighting the pandemic. According to the published inquiries, the government is referring to the Information and Technology Act, which the government has already used in the past to delete posts that are critical of the government during the peasant protests.

As reported by the MediaNama website, which publishes analyzes of Indian technology policy, Twitter has deleted over 100 posts. Some belonged to the accounts of opposition members, including a member of parliament. According to the Indian news magazine The Wire, all deleted posts from verified accounts had called the government into question. A company spokeswoman for Twitter told TechCrunch that blocking requests are always checked to see whether Twitter's own rules and / or local laws are being violated. If posts violate Twitter rules, they would be taken offline, otherwise they will only be blocked for the respective country, but can still be viewed from the outside.

A member of parliament criticized the government's handling of the pandemic in his post and used the hashtag #ModiMadeDesaster. His post was on the government's list and is now banned in India until further notice:

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday when asked about the Indian government's lockdown requests that they "certainly do not align with their [US] view of freedom of expression around the world."

Twitter and the Government of India

The restrictive way in which the nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi deals with expressions of opinion on the Internet, especially on social media, has repeatedly come under criticism. The last time there was a dispute between Twitter and the Indian government was in February.

On instructions from the government, Twitter had blocked hundreds of accounts and posts relating to the farmers' protests that took place at the time. After heavy criticism inside and outside India, the company partially unblocked the accounts and posts. The Indian government then threatened Twitter with consequences in the form of a fine and, in the worst case, imprisonment for Indian Twitter employees. Twitter responded to subsequent blocking requests, but announced them beforehand and notified those affected. This time, too, the company emphasizes that it has notified those affected.

Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of the American tech portal The Verge, criticizes Twitter's approach: India is in a humanitarian crisis and that Twitter is preventing it from being shared is a “moral failure”.

Digital Authoritarianism?

The Indian government adopted stricter rules in February, which should come into force within three months, making more opportunities to intervene in social media legally valid. At the end of March, ten NGOs, including AccessNow and Human Rights Watch, wrote an open letter in which they criticized the government's handling of critical voices, the crackdown on journalists and the new rules.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, Head of Asia-Pacific Policy at AccessNow, said the timing of the new regulations, shortly after Twitter's blocking requests were not immediately complied with, should be understood as a threatening gesture. The Indian government is signaling that far-reaching regulations would follow if companies fail to adhere to their rules.

In addition to taking action against child abuse or incitement to violence, the Government of India reserves the right to remove any post that violates “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”, decency or morality. Since the new regulation, the corporations have 36 hours to delete content after a blocking request from the government.

The platforms are also obliged to hand over the user data to law enforcement authorities upon request. In addition, the corporations are obliged to name a contact person who bears the legal consequences in the country, for example if the company does not comply with blocking requests.

In their open letter, the NGOs also appeal to the big tech companies to respect human rights and to try, contrary to some governments, to exhaust the scope of local law as much as possible in order to restrict freedom of expression as little as possible.

Independent journalism at risk

The new regulations also further restrict digital media. A young generation of critical reporters has formed in India who publish mainly online and work independently of the government and traditional donors. The new rules mean that their contributions are subordinate to a state-run committee that can block, delete and even block entire websites. Information Secretary Prakash Javadekar said freedom of the press is important, but with responsible, reasoned rules, according to the New York Times.

According to the founder of the online magazine The Wire, Sidharth Varadarajan, the new regulations go beyond fundamental restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press and are unconstitutional. The numerous defamation lawsuits against journalists would show how existing laws are already being used to regulate digital media. According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, the new rules could mean more government oversight and more censorship.

The Independent Journalism Foundation, which publishes the online magazine The Wire, has petitioned the Indian Supreme Court with some journalists to challenge the law. The petitioners argue that the new law will regulate online content similarly to another law that the Supreme Court has already prevented. It is an attempt to enforce more control through smaller laws that violate the overriding law. Lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan, who represents the applicants, said in court, according to the legal news portal Bar & Bench, that the new rules "go far beyond anything that is permissible in a democracy".

The IT law should not deal with the regulation of electronic content, unless it is about cybercrime, explicitly sexual material, child pornography, manipulation or theft. However, this does not apply to any news portal, which is why their content should not fall under the law. Government oversight of news media content is beyond the law, the petition said. A detailed hearing was scheduled for April 16, and no verdict has yet been reached.

The organization Reporters Without Borders published its World Press Freedom Index 2021 last week. The situation in India is therefore classified as "bad" and dangerous for journalists. For the second year in a row, the country ranks 142nd out of 180.

Would you like more critical reporting?

Our work at netzpolitik.org is financed almost exclusively by voluntary donations from our readers. With an editorial staff of currently 15 people, this enables us to journalistically work on many important topics and debates in a digital society. With your support, we can clarify even more, conduct investigative research much more often, provide more background information - and defend even more fundamental digital rights!

You too can support our work now with yours Donation.

About the author

Josefine Kulbatzki

Josefine is with us from January to April and is enthusiastic about many different topics relating to digitization, society and politics. At the moment she is working a lot on the regulation of social media in different countries and the big overarching topic "surveillance". Accessible by email - also encrypted if you wish.
Published 04/29/2021 at 2:22 PM