Twitter has deleted a number of tweets flagged by the centre as being critical of its handling of the Covid pandemic. According to a report by technology policy news platform MediaNama, the censored messages include posts by Congress Lok Sabha MP Revanth Reddy, Bengal minister Moloy Ghatak, actor Vineet Kumar Singh and two filmmakers – Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed the deletion of tweets and said that “action has been taken in response to a legal request from the Government of India”.
“We are tackling COVID-19 misinformation using a combination of product, technology, and human review – these critical efforts will continue to be a priority. In order for content related to COVID-19 to be labeled or removed under this policy, it must: Advance a claim of fact, expressed in definitive terms; Demonstrably false or misleading, based on widely available, authoritative sources; Likely to impact public safety or cause serious harm,” the spokesperson said.
Twitter said account holders had been notified via emails linked to their registered account.
The accounts were not restricted due to criticism of government’s handling of Covid crisis but for spreading fake news by posting old pictures to misinform and create panic among the people, government sources told NDTV.
“There are many Twitter handles which have been criticizing the government 24×7 but the government didn’t ask them to be blocked. Only those who have been circulating fake news, old photos etc and trying to mislead and create panic in the society have been restricted,” they added.
India is currently scrambling to contain a devastating second wave of Covid infections, with nearly 3.5 lakh new cases reported in the previous 24 hours this morning. The active caseload is now over 25.5 lakh and nearly two lakh people have died of the virus in the past two years.
The avalanche of cases over the past month has left India’s health infrastructure near collapse.
Hospitals are overflowing, overworked doctors and medical professionals are close to tears, medication and vaccines are in short supply and, over the past 72 hours, a crippling oxygen shortage has left the lives of thousands more in danger.
The Indian government has been heavily criticised in all of this, with opposition leaders and medical experts questioning the lack of preparation since the first wave peaked in September last year.
The centre has also been criticised over tweaks to the vaccination policy that will see manufacturers sell directly to states and private hospitals at higher prices than those offered to it.
Yesterday Congress MP Rahul Gandhi slammed the Narendra Modi government, demanding it takes responsibility for the oxygen crisis and the resulting deaths. “GoI, this is on you,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, as tens of thousands race to find beds, medicines and oxygen cylinders, Twitter has also emerged as a key resource-hunting and gathering space for the otherwise helpless public.
Twitter made headlines in February for blocking around 250 accounts for tweeting, or retweeting, with a controversial hashtag related to the farmers’ protest against the centre’s farm laws. Account holders were accused of making “fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets”.
Hours later the accounts – many of which belonged to journalists or media platforms critical of the centre – were unlocked.