The ministry shared a list of 1,178 Twitter accounts with the company on February 4 that were perceived to be threatening public order, government officials told ET. Many of these accounts were bots that were used to amplify misinformation and provocative content on the farmer protests, they said.
Twitter has not yet complied with the new order, the officials said.
The government has also taken note of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey liking some pro-farmer tweets made by celebrities.
Responding to ET’s queries on the latest order and whether the company planned to take action or legal recourse, Twitter said it has “no comment at this time.”
On January 31, the ministry had directed Twitter to block 257 accounts and a hashtag that were said to be spreading misinformation and provocative content about farmer genocide. Officials said Twitter blocked the accounts for a few hours before unilaterally restoring them and has not fully complied with the order.
ET reported in its edition dated February 4 that the ministry had issued another notice to Twitter on February 3 asking the company to block the accounts and the hashtag with immediate effect and stating that the free-speech argument couldn’t be used to justify their restoration.
Government officials are of the opinion that since Twitter has not challenged these orders in any court in India, its defiance on the matter raises several questions.
The government said as an intermediary, Twitter is obliged to follow its instructions under Section 69 (A) of the Information Technology Act, failing which it could face penal action, they said.
There have been global conversations and discourses on the farmer protests on Twitter including posts by celebrities such as singer Rihanna, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Meena Harris, a lawyer and niece of US vice president Kamala Harris, and actor Susan Sarandon.
Government officials said last week that a toolkit to help accelerate the protests that Thunberg had posted and later deleted was evidence of a coordinated international effort to defame India and trigger unrest over farm laws. Taking the toolkit into account, the Delhi Police registered a first information report on February 4 against unnamed individuals and pro-Khalistani groups under Sections 124 A (sedition), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion).
Previously, ahead of Republic Day, the Delhi Police had said over 300 Twitter handles had been created in Pakistan to mislead users and cause confusion.
Twitter said then that while it wasn’t able to independently corroborate the cited findings, it has a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to spam and platform manipulation.
“Using technology and human review in concert, we proactively tackle attempts to violate these policies by actioning millions of accounts each week. We work with law enforcement to ensure they have a clear way to report content with valid legal process,” a Twitter spokesperson had said.