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Twitter Blocks Accounts of Tractor2twitr And tractor2twitr_b yet again following govt.’s warning of penal consequences

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053 Indian Farmers Protest on 13 December 2020 (Licensed under CCA 2.0 Generic) and MeitY India's Facebook (cropped and resized)

Twitter, on Thursday, blocked the account of Tractor2twitr and its back up account tractor2twitr_b that was created after the original was withheld by Twitter along with 255 other accounts that actively posted updates on the ongoing farmers’ protest against the three Farm Bills passed by the central government during its 2020 monsoon session. 

This came right after the central government issued notice to the social-networking giant warning it of penal consequences under Section 69A[3] of Information Technology Act in case of “non-compliance” with the directions issued by the government, Bar and Bench reported.

It was after Twitter restored the 257 accounts that it had withheld on February 1 as a “response to legal demands” allegedly by the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the ongoing farmers’ protest posts. Twitter has written back to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) refusing to comply with the central government’s order to block one hashtag and 257 URLs on the ongoing farmers’ protests.

Over 250 accounts, including The Caravan, Kisan Ekta Morcha, Tractor2Twitr, that actively post updates of the ongoing farmers’ protest, were withheld by Twitter on Monday briefly.

The social media giant stated “response to legal demands” as the reason to withhold these accounts.

Twitter had also withheld accounts of actor Sushant Singh, Prasar Bharti CEO Shashi Shekhar, CPIM leader Mohammed Salim, the official handle of CPI(M) Puducherry, and socio-political activist Hansraj Meena.

The microblogging site faced immense criticism from across the world for withholding the accounts.

According to ANI, on the direction of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, around 250 Twitter accounts were withheld for allegedly tweeting or retweeting #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag, making “fake, intimidatory and provocative tweets”. ANI tweeted that, this was done on the “request of Ministry of Home Affairs and law enforcement agencies” to “prevent any escalation of law and order” considering the ongoing farmers’ protest stating “incitement to genocide is a grave threat to public order”.

Twitter blocked the accounts under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

There was no notification from Twitter to any of these withheld 250 accounts in India.

Recently, on January 6, Twitter had suspended former US President Donal Trump’s account for 12 hours following the violence that broke out in the US Capitol. While the violence was still underway, Trump was given repeated warnings from Twitter to take down his tweets and videos encouraging the rioters and their violence in the Capitol, Twitter suspended his account to prevent “future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrumpaccount.”

When Newslaundry reached out for information, a Twitter spokesperson said: “Many countries have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time. Transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing, so e.g. if we receive a court order under seal).”

The last tweet by The Caravan before getting withheld was the cover page of the magazine’s February issue featuring actor Akshay Kumar in a saffron camouflage jacket against the backdrop of saffron flags with the tagline Akshay Kumar’s Role as Hindutva’s Poster Boy. On January 30, Mandeep Punia, a freelance journalist covering the farmers’ protest for The Caravan was arrested and remanded to judicial custody for allegedly misbehaving with civil servants while reporting.

Journalists held a protest march in New Delhi on January 31 against the arrests of journalists, the criminal defamation and sedition charges faced by them for their coverage of the ongoing farmers’ protest in New Delhi.

The Editors Guild of India on January 30 called for a protest at the Press Club of India against the sedition, other criminal charges and promoting “enmity” under the Indian Penal Code filed against senior journalists. Multiple FIRs have been registered across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh against Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor and six other senior journalists for allegedly spreading “false information” through their Twitter and live television coverage on the violence that broke out during the farmers’ protest on Republic Day in New Delhi. Senior journalist and consulting editor of India Today Rajdeep Sardesai was taken off air for two weeks and his one month’s salary was deducted for allegedly misreporting facts during a violent clash of agitating farmers with the New Delhi Police.

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