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‘Safety of staff priority’, Twitter seeks formal dialogue with govt

Sources said senior Twitter executives are scheduled to meet Prasad and senior IT ministry officials this week to explain their stand on non-removal of some content and the decision to restore some accounts linked to the farmers’ protest that were red-flagged by the Centre.

Written by Aashish Aryan | New Delhi |
Updated: February 10, 2021 8:00:24 am
‘Safety of staff priority’, Twitter seeks formal dialogue with govtTwitter executives are likely to seek an assurance that no coercive action will be taken against the company’s executives until the issue is sorted out, said a source.

DAYS AFTER the Centre asked Twitter to “suspend or block” nearly 1,200 accounts, citing “misinformation and provocative content” on the farmers’ protest, Twitter said on Tuesday that it had “reached out” to Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for a “formal dialogue” on the issue.

Sources said senior Twitter executives are scheduled to meet Prasad and senior IT ministry officials this week to explain their stand on non-removal of some content and the decision to restore some accounts linked to the farmers’ protest that were red-flagged by the Centre.

Explained

Process will be long

Twitter’s effort to reach out to the Centre could be the start of a long negotiation process. Twitter had cited freedom of speech to restore some accounts linked to farmers’ protest. The government responded that the platform is an “intermediary bound by the orders of the Government” and cannot “assume the role of a court”.

“Safety of our employees is a top priority for us at Twitter. We continue to be engaged with the Government of India from a position of respect and have reached out to the Honourable Minister, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for a formal dialogue,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

This comes at a time when the company’s public policy director for India and South Asia, Mahima Kaul, has resigned, citing “personal reasons”.

Twitter executives are likely to seek an assurance that no coercive action will be taken against the company’s executives until the issue is sorted out, said a source.

On February 4, the IT ministry had sent Twitter a list of nearly 1,200 accounts, asking it to either suspend or block them in India, sources said. These accounts, the notice had said, “were flagged by security agencies as accounts of Khalistan sympathisers or backed by Pakistan”.

“Many of these accounts were also automated bots that were used for sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative content on the farmers’ protests. However, Twitter has not yet complied with this order,” senior government officials had told The Indian Express.

This is in addition to a list of 257 accounts sent to Twitter as a part of a notice on January 31, in which the IT ministry had asked the platform to block these handles and some hashtags used by them. The notice had said that these handles had been “spreading misinformation” about the farmers’ protest, which had the potential to “lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country”.

Twitter had responded by blocking some of the accounts, but had later unblocked them – a decision which irked the IT ministry.

Twitter has said that it reviews each report from the government “as expeditiously as possible”, and takes appropriate action in line with the fundamental values of the company and its “commitment to protecting the public conversation”.

“An update is shared through our established channels of communication with the Government. We strongly believe that the open and free exchange of information has a positive global impact and that the tweets must continue to flow,” a company spokesperson said.

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