India's government threatens Twitter

Social media giant Twitter is facing rough weather in India after refusing to comply with the Indian government's request that it delete 1,178 handles.

Authorities allege these handles have spread hate and incited violence during ongoing protests about new agriculture laws by Indian farmers, several thousand of whom are camped outside New Delhi. The Indian government has issued a non-compliance notice while Twitter has attempted to justify its position in a statement.

"We review every report we receive from the government as expeditiously as possible, and take appropriate action regarding such reports while making sure we hold firm to our fundamental values and commitment to protecting the public conversation," Twitter says.

Twitter says it continues to engage with the Indian government and has sought a meeting with Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. "We strongly believe that the open and free exchange of information has a positive global impact, and that the tweets must continue to flow," it says.

Other Internet firms, including Facebook and Google, are reported to have received and complied with similar orders, according to media reports. With more than 15 million users, India is one of the largest markets for Twitter, which now finds itself in a fight with local authorities. It has been ordered by the government to block several Twitter accounts and hashtags, including #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide.

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While it initially complied with the request, Twitter subsequently restored most of the accounts after saying there was "insufficient justification" for their removal. Twitter is now caught between the government and protesters who abhor the latest policies. Pop star Rihanna and environmental activist Greta Thunberg have also tweeted about India's agriculture laws, triggering a strong reaction from the government.

It has threatened Twitter with legal action and has said it does not have to justify its demands.

Yet banning Twitter would be difficult when it is such a popular tool for all political parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which uses the site to engage with its target audience. In fact, social media played a key role in helping BJP win a record mandate about two years ago.

That said, several senior government officials have already begun moving to Koo, an Indian alternative to Twitter, suggesting authorities are planning to ban the US firm.

This is not the first time Twitter has taken a stand against the Indian establishment. The company's CEO, Jack Dorsey, previously failed to appear before a parliamentary panel. He was also in the news recently for liking a tweet that suggested Twitter should come up with an emoji for the farmers' protest.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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