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Twitter caused a stir by complying with the Indian government’s request to temporarily “withhold” access to dozens of accounts for users within the country in response to claims that they were “inciting violence” during the ongoing farmers’ protests, which prompts some very important ethical questions that have a few disturbing implications for the freedoms of speech and assembly in Western-style democracies across the world.
Everyone across the world is talking about social media censorship after former US President Trump was deplatformed last month by the world’s largest companies in this sphere following the storming of his country’s Capitol on 6 January, but another recent incident is similarly alarming but hasn’t received the amount of global attention that it deserves.
Twitter caused a stir by complying with the Indian government’s request to temporarily “withhold” access to dozens of accounts for users within the country in response to claims that they were “inciting violence” during the ongoing farmers’ protests. To its credit, Reuters reported on this controversial decision when it happened, and the BBC just followed up to inform its readers that access has been restored to many of the affected accounts. Nevertheless, the ethical questions related to this course of events and the disturbing implications that they pose for the freedoms of speech and assembly in Western-style democracies haven’t been adequately addressed.
Strictly speaking, “India’s information technology laws empower the government to seek to block online content deemed as inciting disruption to public order”, according to Reuters. In this sense, Twitter was just abiding by the legal request of one of the many countries in which it operates. Be that as it may, there are concerns that the affected accounts weren’t objectively “inciting disruption to public order” simply for posting with the hashtag #modiplanningfarmersgenocide. The politics of genocide are very emotive and the issue is oftentimes exploited for ulterior motives. Even so, it’s questionable whether provocative claims such as that one amount to “Genocide incitement (which) is a public offence and a great threat to public order”, according to one of the unnamed Indian officials that spoke to Reuters.