INDIA: Twitter and Facebook block criticism of COVID response

Responding to reports that the Indian government ordered Twitter and Facebook to take down dozens of social media posts, Rasha Abdul Rahim, Director of Amnesty Tech, said:

“Twitter and Facebook must stop taking down posts critical of the Indian government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Twitter and Facebook’s decision undermines Indian citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information without interference, which is of particular importance during a public health emergency. 

“The government is using the vague and ambiguous argument that the content is ‘fake news’ and ‘spreading misinformation’, when in reality it is trying to silence any criticism against it. It is a tactic that has been used time and time again by governments across the world during the pandemic to avoid scrutiny and accountability. 

“Social media companies have immense power when it comes to deciding what people can and cannot post about. They therefore have a responsibility to guarantee users’ access to information online and ensure content is not unduly restricted or censored at the whim of governments.”

Background

In a statement on Sunday, India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it ordered Twitter, Facebook and others to take down roughly 100 social media posts. A spokesperson from Twitter confirmed the order to block content while Facebook is yet to comment on the issue. 

Twitter did not specify which content it had taken down but media reports suggest the tweets were criticizing the governments’ response to the crisis and included posts by politicians and other public figures.

The companies have agreed to the request but in the past have reposted some content after reviews.