India Calls Twitter Shutdown Threat an “Outright Lie”

Claims that Twitter was threatened to take down content have been dismissed by the Indian government.

In more turbulent Twitter news that isn’t related to recent ad slumps or platform bugs, ex-CEO Jack Dorsey has this week made claims of government threats.

During a recent interview, Dorsey said that the platform was threatened with a shutdown in India unless the company complied with orders to restrict accounts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has since hit back, calling the claims an “outright lie”.

The accounts in question were critical of the way the country’s contentious farmer protests had been handled. 

Twitter Claims Shutdown Threat Made in India

During an interview with YouTube news show Breaking Points, Dorsey claimed that raids on employees’ homes had been threatened.

“It manifested in ways such as ‘we will shut Twitter down in India’ – which is a very large market for us. And ‘we will raid the home of your employees”, which they did.”– Jack Dorsey Twitter’s ex-CEO

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Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India’s Deputy Minister for Information Technology – a top ranking official in Modi’s government – called these claims an “outright lie” and “attempt to brush out that very dubious period of Twitter’s history”.

He went on to say that Twitter was repeatedly violating India’s law, with claims they had a problem removing misinformation from the platform. The Government maintained that any take-down orders for content during this period were merely to prevent misinformation spreading.

During the interview, Dorsey cited no documentary evidence of the threats, but did claim that many take-down requests focused on particular journalists who had been critical about the Indian government.

“No one went to jail nor was Twitter ‘shut down’. Dorsey’s Twitter regime had a problem accepting the sovereignty of Indian law.” – Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India’s Deputy Minister for Information Technology

Indian Protests Led to Claims

During 2021, India’s farmers were embroiled in protests over agricultural reforms and supposed anti-farmer laws. The protests were the biggest faced by Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The government eventually repealed the laws.

During this period however, the Indian government requested an “emergency blocking” of the Twitter hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide, which they deemed provocative. They also sought for dozens of accounts to be suspended.

Twitter is said to have initially complied but, after realising the lack of justification over the suspensions, they restored most of the accounts.

After this, it’s alleged that Indian police went to a Twitter office as part of another inquiry linked to manipulating governing party posts. During this visit, the platform is said to have been worried about staff safety.

Other Governments Also Pressured Twitter

During the interview, Dorsey alleged similar pressure from Nigerian and Turkish governments.

In June 2021, Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed claimed that Dorsey was responsible for the violence and destruction during anti-police brutality protests. According to Dorsey, Twitter “could not even put its employees on the ground in the country out of fear of what the government might do to them”.

Allegedly, Turkey has also made multiple content take-down requests and shutdown threats.

Freedom of Speech vs Content Compliance

While this particular feud is one word against another, it does throw the wider topic of India’s freedom of speech back into the spotlight.

Last year, Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi claimed an Indian financial crime agency threatened executives with “physical violence and coercion”. The allegation was denied by the agency.

Meanwhile, Modi’s government has continually called out Google, Facebook and Twitter for not doing enough to tackle what they consider to be fake or “anti-India” content.

India has also reached its lowest ranking ever in the World Press Freedom Index, slipping from 140 to 161. The Modi administration consistently denies suggestions that it clamps down on free speech.

Without specifically naming Musk or referencing the $44bn platform purchase last year, Chandrasekhar has since said that Twitter has been in compliance with Indian laws from June 2022.

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Written by:
Ellis Di Cataldo (MA) has over 9 years experience writing about, and for, some of the world’s biggest tech companies. She's been the lead writer across digital campaigns, always-on content and worldwide product launches, for global brands including Sony, Electrolux, Byrd, The Open University and Barclaycard. Her particular areas of interest are business trends, startup stories and product news.
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