NEW DELHI — Twitter pushed back on Thursday against India’s increasingly heavy-handed efforts to control online speech, calling on the government to respect freedom of expression and criticizing what it called “intimidation tactics” by the country’s police.
The statement comes as the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces mounting pressure to handle a devastating second wave of the coronavirus. Many of those complaints have been aired on Twitter and elsewhere online.
The government has moved to reclaim the narrative. On Thursday, Twitter said it had received a notice of noncompliance with India’s information technology laws. The statement asked the company to remove content critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus and about farmers’ protests, including some posted by journalists, activists, and politicians.
Under Indian law, Twitter’s executives in India could face up to seven years in prison if the company fails to abide by government orders to remove content that it considers subversive or a threat to public order and national security.
In its statement, the San Francisco-based social media service said it planned to push leaders in India to change new regulations that have given the authorities more excellent communication over online platforms.
“Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve,” the statement read.
Citing the new information technology regulations, it added that “we, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global terms of service, as well as with core elements of the new I.T. rules.”
Twitter’s statement came days after officers belonging to an elite antiterrorism police unit visited the company’s New Delhi offices, bearing a notice protesting how the company had labeled posts by senior officials in India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P.
Those officials had posted documents on Twitter that they said provided proof that the opposition politicians were planning to use the country’s coronavirus crisis as a political cudgel. Twitter labeled them “manipulated media” in response to accusations that the documents had been forged.