New Delhi: The aftermath of revoking Article 370 noticed the Narendra Modi authorities challenge its highest-ever variety of month-to-month blocking orders to Twitter, with the entire censorship requests aimed toward Kashmir-related content material.
The person accounts or tweets that have been blocked in August 2019, nevertheless, continues to be low in quantity, particularly when in comparison with the controversial episodes of Twitter censorship in August 2012 and September 2017 by the UPA-II and NDA-II governments.
Nonetheless, the official orders and surrounding Indian and Pakistani media reportage increase questions over the transparency and accountability of the official process for taking down on-line content material.
The primary spherical of blocking requests was reported by numerous Indian media retailers on August 11 and August 12. Most studies indicated that the Centre had requested for eight accounts to be blocked, which included:
- @kashmir787 — ‘Voice of Kashmir’
- @Red4Kashmir — Madiha Shakil Khan (28-year-old Pakistani lady)
- @arsched — Arshad Sharif (A Pakistani journalist with a verified account)
- @mscully94 — Mary Scully (A columnist with Pakistan Right now)
- @sageelaniii — Syed Ali Geelani (Unverified and unconfirmed account of the separatist chief)
- @sadaf2k19 — Unknown
- @RiazKha61370907 — Unknown
- @RiazKha723 — Unknown
This checklist was largely confirmed by IPS officer Sandeep Mittal, who’s the joint secretary (safety) of the Lok Sabha secretariat in a tweet put out on August 12.
On the time, NDTV quoted nameless law enforcement officials as saying that these handles have been “circulating faux information” and that the language used was a “clear indication” that they have been both being run by the ISI or the Pakistan Military”.
In remarks made to Reuters, Madiha Shakil Khan has denied any ties with ISI. “I’m tweeting in solidarity with Kashmiris,” Khan advised the information company final month, including that “Kashmir is being completely censored”. “They solely need the Indian narrative. Each month they droop me.”
Out of those eight accounts that India reportedly wished to be blocked, two are at present untouched (Sharif and Scully’s handles). One in every of them, official blocking orders do present, was taken down for Indian customers on request of the Modi authorities (@kashmir787).
The opposite six seem to have been suspended – not on the Indian authorities’s insistence, however as a result of they violated Twitter’s phrases of service. This means that these accounts might come again on-line later if they’ll efficiently attraction their suspension order.
August Eight and August 13
Official blocking orders for August 2019 – proven in chronological order beneath – paint a barely totally different image than media reportage.
Modi authorities’s Twitt… by The Wire on Scribd
As an illustration, the primary takedown request, despatched to Twitter on August 8, 2019, resulted in a single verified ‘blue-tick’ Pakistani Twitter account being taken down. The account of Zaid Hamid, a Pakistani columnist who has been accused by a lot of being a conspiracy theorist and spreading misinformation, was suspended.
Surprisingly, no media report famous that India had requested for Zaid Hamid’s account to be blocked though the timelines match (the primary blocking request was despatched on August 8, and the primary set of media studies appeared three days later). One right-wing Indian tv channel, nevertheless, indicated that Hamid’s blocking was the results of a grievance that it had despatched to India’s residence affairs ministry and the social media firm.
Along with this, in the identical August Eight request, a number of different tweets belonging to a deal with known as the ‘Nationwide Sikh Youth Federation’ have been taken down, whereas the account itself stays up. One tweet despatched out an account purportedly belonging to the spouse of Kashmiri separatist chief Yasin Malik was additionally eliminated.
The following takedown request, despatched to Twitter on August 13, noticed the social media big taking motion on a number of accounts: @BTPakistan, @kashmir787 and @umargondal67. ‘BTPakistan’ seems to be a back-up account utilized by Hamid and was thus consequently blocked when delivered to the Modi authorities’s consideration.
One tweet by Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif (verified account) was additionally censored – the tweet was indirectly linked to Kashmir however as an alternative shared a Haaretz information hyperlink describing the BJP as a celebration of ‘Nazi-loving Hindus’.
Together with the tweet, a cached model of which may be discovered right here, Sharif additionally tweeted the hashtag ‘#StopKashmiriGenocide’.
Highest month-to-month variety of orders
Six extra orders adopted within the subsequent two weeks: August 14, August 16, August 19, August 21, August 23 and August 26. These included requests to dam particular accounts, largely with a small variety of followers.
It additionally included orders to take down particular tweets made by accounts purportedly belonging to Kashmiri separatist chief Syed Geelani and Pakistani journalist Kiran Naz.
As The Wire has reported beforehand, the Narendra Modi authorities often prefers to ship blocking orders to Twitter in a trickle. The typical variety of takedown requests to Twitter over the past 12 months has been two or three. In August 2019, there have been 9 such orders.
The blocking orders, and the allegations made by the Pakistani media, increase some necessary questions.
1) Firstly, it’s unclear why some accounts have been blocked for spreading ‘misinformation’ and others haven’t. As an illustration, the Jammu and Kashmir police declared that the Twitter account belonging to Pakistani journalist Wajahat Saeed Khan (@WajSKhan) was “spreading rumours by way of his tweets very often that are resulting in legislation and order state of affairs in Kashmir valley”.
And but, Khan’s account has not been blocked and may be freely accessed in India.
There are three attainable eventualities right here. One, the J&Ok police have totally different, internally-constructed classes that demand blocking for sure misinformation that has a direct impression on legislation and order, however not for different misinformation.
Two, India’s IT ministry felt that Zaid Hamid needs to be blocked for spreading misinformation, however didn’t consider that Wajahat Saeed Khan deserved to be blocked.
Or three, each the J&Ok Police and the IT ministry did advocate that Khan’s account be blocked, however Twitter refused.
The second state of affairs implies that the J&Ok police and the IT ministry – the latter formally sends all blocking orders below Part 69A of the IT Act to Twitter – are usually not on the identical web page on what sort of misinformation results in public dysfunction. The third state of affairs implies that Twitter India has its inside logic on what sorts of ‘deceptive’ tweets needs to be blocked below Part 69A and straight intervenes in these circumstances.
In all three circumstances, extra transparency on the official course of is required.
2) A number of media studies have mentioned that the blocking of Twitter accounts in August 2019 is a case of India performing on the Pakistani Military or ISI’s digital misinformation operations. If that is so, has the Modi authorities (by way of intermediaries) shared no matter particulars it could actually with Twitter or different third-parties like FireEye?
Most large expertise corporations like Twitter or Fb have prior to now confirmed to behave shortly and publicly in opposition to state-sponsored disinformation operations that abuse on-line social networks.
As an illustration, in November 2018, Twitter disclosed the small print of an internet disinformation marketing campaign run by the Iranian state to affect Indian Twitter customers. Extra just lately, Fb outlined an operation run by the Chinese language authorities to defuse the Hong Kong protests.
If India is already publicly figuring out accounts it believes to be run by an ISI operation and asking for them to be blocked, it makes additional sense to supply proof and have Twitter publish their outcomes. It could be a public-relations victory for the Modi authorities.
3) A intently associated query is when misinformation needs to be blocked, and when ought to it’s countered.
It’s clear that if deceptive tweets are the results of a covert ISI digital operation, they need to be taken down. However what about deceptive tweets posted by verified, blue-tick Pakistani accounts – journalists, columnists or politicians? Certainly, in some circumstances, it makes extra sense for the Indian authorities or Indian safety officers to counter the misinformation and present that it’s unsuitable?
This turns into extra necessary when you think about that Twitter isn’t eradicating the deceptive tweets completely. All the corporate is doing is Balkanising its community, eradicating it from the timelines of any Twitter person with an Indian IP handle. Pakistan, and the remainder of the world, can nonetheless see these tweets.
4) Why has Twitter itself grow to be much less clear over the past two years? A number of Pakistani media studies have mentioned that over 200 Pakistani accounts have been suspended over content material associated to Kashmir, thus “aiding” India’s quest to manage the narrative.
There’s nothing within the official blocking orders to point that 200 accounts have been blocked on New Delhi’s request. It’s greater than doubtless that these handles have been briefly suspended primarily based on person studies (which may be orchestrated) or because of violating Twitter’s phrases of service.
However, Twitter is disclosing much less data than ever concerning official requests despatched out by governments. As an illustration, again in September 2017, when the Modi authorities wished to censor lots of of tweets and accounts, Twitter made public two necessary items of data. One, the checklist of content material (tweets + handles) that the Centre wished to be blocked. And two, what Twitter agreed to dam, presumably after fastidiously deciding whether or not the Indian authorities was justified in demanding the censorship.
Nevertheless, after the 2017 controversy, The Wire has discovered, the IT ministry below Ravi Shankar Prasad was so upset that it requested Twitter to cease sharing the primary piece of data (what it wished to be blocked). After that, Twitter solely lists out “Content material Actioned in Jurisdiction” or the precise tweets and handles it has agreed to dam on the IT ministry’s request.
Because of this we don’t know if the IT ministry really wished Wajahat Saeed Khan’s account to be blocked or whether or not it demanded that Arshad Sharif’s deal with be taken down however Twitter refused.
With each events clamming up, there’s drastically much less transparency over a course of that has important penalties for freedom of expression in India.