Web Desk – October 27, 2019
CPJ retrieves requests by Indian govt to Twitter asking to block some 400 accounts focussing on Kashmir
A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent body working to promote press freedom worldwide, has accused the Indian government of using an unclear legal process to suppress Kashmiri journalism and discussion on Twitter.
According to the CPJ report, “Hundreds of thousands of tweets have been blocked in India since August 2017 under the company’s [Twitter] country withheld content policy were shared by accounts that focus on [Indian-occupied] Kashmir.”
Withheld content is blocked for users whose country setting or other information places them in the relevant jurisdiction, according to Twitter’s policy, which can apply to tweets or accounts.
The requests sent by Indian officials to Twitter, between August 2017 and August 2019, are not public, but the Silicon Valley social media company passes some of them to Lumen – a project of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center. The CPJ has retrieved those requests from Lumen.
“Excluding copyright notices, CPJ found 53 requests, including 13 sent by the Indian election commission around 2019 general election. The remaining 40 were sent by the Indian Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology. Nine of those date from August 2019 when the communications blackout in IOK began, a spike from the preceding months,” said the CPJ report.
“Combined, the 53 notices list several hundred URLs that they allege contain illegal content. CPJ analysed every account involved, reviewing more than 400 in total.”
According to CPJ’s review, around 45 per cent of those accounts mentioned Kashmir in the handle or bio or had recently tweeted about IOK.
It added, “Ninety-three of those accounts were withheld in India when CPJ tested them in September and October 2019. Another 29 individual tweets from different accounts were also withheld. The vast majority of the withheld accounts were from the group that referenced IOK, hosting over 920,000 tweets between them.”
David Kaye, a UN special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, told CPJ, “It totally makes sense the Indian government would go after Twitter and Twitter users, because Twitter as a platform is a really significant source of information sharing, for journalists and activists and regular citizens in Kashmir.”
Kaye, last December, wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, asking for transparency about the company’s decision to withhold “tweets and accounts when they have participated in discussions concerning IOK.” Kaye received no public response, he told CPJ in August. “We don’t have any real clarity about what’s going on,” he said.
Many Indian legal experts say India’s censorship process raises significant concerns.
Responding to CPJ, a Twitter spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons,” and added, “Twitter is committed to the principles of openness, transparency, and impartiality.”
Yet experts told CPJ that Twitter is not transparent about how hard it pushes back against censorship requests.