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US says committed to supporting freedom of speech amid Twitter-India govt spat

The IT ministry had sent a list of 257 handles and tweets to be blocked, and while Twitter blocked them for a few hours, it soon unblocked them. (REUTERS)Premium
The IT ministry had sent a list of 257 handles and tweets to be blocked, and while Twitter blocked them for a few hours, it soon unblocked them. (REUTERS)

  • The tussle between Twitter and the Indian government started late last month when the micro-blogging platform unblocked 250 accounts that used a controversial hashtag referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and farmer genocide

NEW DELHI: The US state department overnight Thursday said it was committed to supporting freedom of speech online and offline amid a spat between Twitter and the Indian government over blocking posts with controversial hashtags.

“The United States is committed to supporting democratic values and promoting human rights, including freedom of expression online and offline.

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We refer you to Twitter for information on its policies," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in response to a question.

The tussle between Twitter and the Indian government started late last month when the micro-blogging platform unblocked 250 accounts that used a controversial hashtag referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and farmer genocide.

The IT ministry had sent a list of 257 handles and tweets to be blocked, and while Twitter blocked them for a few hours, it soon unblocked them.

The social media platform said it had taken steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter. It has also taken a range of enforcement actions—including permanent suspension in certain cases—against more than 500 accounts highlighted by MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s rules.

Separately, it has withheld a portion of the accounts (tweet, media or thread) identified in the block- ing orders under its country withheld content policy in India only. However, these continue to be available outside of India.

On Wednesday, Twitter released a detailed statement on the content removal requests by the government, stating that it has taken action against hundreds of accounts after MeitY issued a non-compliance notice threatening penal action. However, it asserted, none of the action was taken on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians.

In its response, MeitY described Twitter’s response in a blog post as “unusual".

“Upon the request of Twitter seeking a meeting with the Govt., the Secretary IT was to engage with senior management of Twitter. In this light, a blog post published prior to this engagement is unusual. Govt. will share its response soon," MeitY said in its response.

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