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Police at Twitter’s door after BJP posts flagged; Opposition slams ‘intimidation’

The police move comes two days after the Centre objected to Twitter tagging some posts on the alleged "toolkit" as "manipulated media" -- one of the posts was by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.

Written by Jignasa Sinha | New Delhi |
Updated: May 25, 2021 11:48:39 am
Police at Twitter’s door after BJP posts flagged; Opposition slams ‘intimidation’A team of the Delhi Police Special Cell at Twitter India’s Lado Sarai office in New Delhi, Monday. (PTI)

DAYS after Twitter flagged some posts by ruling party leaders alleging a Congress plot to malign the Prime Minister and the Central Government as “manipulated media”, a team of Delhi Police’s Special Cell Monday — working under the Union Home Ministry — knocked on the doors of Twitter India’s Delhi and Gurgaon offices to ostensibly serve the social media platform a notice.

This ratchets up the controversy over tweets by BJP leaders alleging a “Congress toolkit”, which the Congress has called fake. A Delhi Police official said they had decided to issue a notice to Twitter after receiving complaints from Rohan Gupta, who heads the Congress’s social media department, and M V Rajeev Gowda, the party’s national spokesperson, over the BJP’s “toolkit” allegations.

However, hours after the Delhi Police action, the Congress hit out at the Government saying that “subjugation of free speech”, attempts to stifle “dissenting voices” and the bid to instil fear were continuing unabated.

The police move comes two days after the Centre objected to Twitter tagging some posts on the alleged “toolkit” as “manipulated media” — one of the posts was by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.

On May 19, police in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh registered a case against Patra and former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh over the “toolkit” tweets.

The action by Delhi Police is also the latest in a series of flashpoints over the last six months between the Centre and the US-based social media giant over critical tweets on a range of issues – from the farmers’ protests to the Government’s Covid response.

Delhi Police PRO Chinmoy Biswal said the action was “a part of a routine process”. “This was necessitated as we wanted to ascertain who is the right person to serve a notice, as replies by Twitter India MD have been very ambiguous,” he said.

On Monday, police teams in three cars were sent to both locations — while they couldn’t locate the Gurgaon office, the one in Delhi was locked, officials said.

A senior officer from the Special Cell said the team had sent a notice to Twitter about the case but didn’t receive “an appropriate response”. “We want to know what information Twitter has about the toolkit and why they chose to give the ‘manipulated media’ label. Our team visited their Gurgaon office on Golf Course Road and Delhi office in Mehrauli to hand over the notice,” he said.

According to a Delhi Police official, the Congress complaint mentioned tweets by Patra and others and asked police and Twitter to take action against them. No FIR has been registered so far.

At 7 pm, around 10 policemen from the Special Cell reached Gurgaon’s Golf Course Road but couldn’t locate the Twitter office. A separate team reached the Mehrauli office in Delhi around 7.40 pm. They met guards and asked them for directions to the office, which was found locked. The team left the premises around 8.15 pm.

The Indian Express accessed the notice sent to Twitter India MD Manish Maheswari on Saturday, which read: “During the course of investigation, it has come to our knowledge that you (Twitter India) are acquainted with the facts of the matter and are in possession of information with regard to the same. You are therefore requested to be present in the office of the undersigned for the purpose of investigation with all the relevant documents on 22 May, 2021 at 01:00 pm.”

Said a senior Delhi Police officer: “Twitter declared the tweets as manipulated media. They must have some information which prompted them to… We asked them to provide it to us so we can take action on the complaint, but Maheshwari told us he has ‘nothing to do with this tweet’, and that he is a ‘mere employee’ of their India office.”

Asked about the notice served to the platform, Pallavi Walia, Head of Policy Communications at Twitter India, responded via email: “We have no comment to share at this time.”

However, Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said the police action was a fallout of the “fake toolkit” being “exposed”.

“Now perturbed by it, running scared of it, the BJP and the Narendra Modi Government are raiding Twitter offices…Why? The guilty people are sitting in BJP headquarters and in the seat of power, but you are raiding Twitter’s office. The BJP is running scared of its lies and fraud getting caught and being branded as manipulated and fraudulent by social media platforms,” he said.

“Priority of these times is to focus on providing healthcare, medicines & vaccines. Union Home Minister instead unleashes Delhi Police on a social media platform to intimidate it for petty & partisan political purposes. Inhuman. Shameful,” CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury posted on Twitter.

In January and February, Twitter had initially refused to take down certain tweets about farmer protests flagged by the IT Ministry for allegedly “spreading misinformation” and having the potential to “lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country”.

This led to the IT Ministry threatening to jail Twitter India employees if the platform failed to act. Twitter India backed down, and later said it had complied with 95 per cent of requests that the Government had made.

In February, while replying to questions in the Rajya Sabha, Prasad had accused social media platforms of “double standards” in their approach to recent events at the US Capitol Hill and the Red Fort on Republic Day.

“Why is it that when the police have to act in US Capitol Hill they stand in support, but when similar action is taken at Red Fort, they oppose it? Freedom of speech is there, but with reasonable restrictions. Why the double standards?” Prasad had said.

In April, Twitter conveyed to Lumen Database that it has taken down or restricted access to over 50 tweets flagged by the Central government, through the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in the past one month.

Some of the takedown notices sent by the Centre sought removal or blocking of access in India to tweets that were critical of its handling of the second Covid wave. Other tweets showed pictures and videos of the Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh that left at least 22 security personnel dead. —(With Manoj C G & Aashish Aryan)

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