09/25/2021

Indian police visit Twitter offices after government tweet flagged

Originally published in Dawn on May 24, 2021

Police in India’s capital served a notice at Twitter’s offices late on Monday, seeking information for a complaint about why a tweet by the spokesperson of the ruling Hindu-nationalist party was tagged as “manipulated media”.

Tensions have been high between the Indian government and the US social media giant after Twitter earlier this year reversed its blocking of a number of accounts critical of New Delhi’s new agriculture laws following a request from authorities.

An Indian climate activist was arrested in February after allegedly helping to create a guide to farmer protests against the laws that was tweeted by environmentalist Greta Thunberg.

Read: Row escalates between Twitter and India over blocking accounts

The government last month also ordered Twitter and Facebook to remove dozens of posts critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The latest spat followed Twitter’s labelling of a tweet on Tuesday by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra as “manipulated media”

He had shared a document allegedly showing the opposition Congress party’s master plan to contrast the BJP’s efforts to combat the pandemic with theirs.

Congress tweeted that it had sent a letter to Twitter’s headquarters in the US, calling for Patra’s account as well as that of several other BJP representatives to be permanently suspended.

The opposition party alleged that the document shared was fake.

Delhi Police confirmed to AFP that they had gone to Twitter’s offices to serve the notice about the tweet, but called it part of a “routine process”.

“Delhi Police is enquiring into a complaint in which clarification is sought from Twitter regarding the classification of a tweet by Shri Sambit Patra as ‘manipulative’,” police said in a statement.

“It appears that Twitter has some information which is not known to us on the basis of which they have classified it as such. This information is relevant to the inquiry.”

A Twitter spokesperson told AFP it had “no comment” about Delhi Police’s visit to its offices.

Under Twitter’s rules, a post is tagged as “manipulated media” if it includes “media (videos, audio, and images) that have been deceptively altered or fabricated”.

A leading factcheck organisation, AltNews, said it had analysed the documents and claimed that some were created with a forged letterhead.

Modi and the BJP have been criticised for their slow response to a new wave of Covid-19 infections that has pushed India’s healthcare system to breaking point.

The BJP has hit back via its social media army, blaming state governments and others for ignoring what it says were Modi’s repeated warnings of a second wave.

India has reported just over 26.7 million Covid-19 infections and more than 300,000 deaths, according to health ministry data, but experts warn that the actual toll could be much higher.

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