Farmers' protest | Govt issues notice to Twitter on ‘farmer genocide’ hashtag

Refusal to remove content may invite penal action, it says

The Union government has issued a notice to Twitter to comply with its order of removal of content related to ‘farmer genocide’. The Centre alleged that the material was designed to spread misinformation to inflame passions and hatred and warned that refusal to do so may invite penal action.

On Tuesday evening, Twitter restored over 250 accounts, hours after blocking them due to “legal demand”.

The platform in a meeting with government officials contested the order, arguing that these accounts were not in violation of Twitter policy, and declined to abide by the government order.

A source in the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), which has sent the notice to the U.S.-headquartered firm, said Twitter was an intermediary and was obliged to follow the directions of the government and refusal to do so may invite penal action.

 “Twitter unilaterally unblocked accounts/tweets despite government order blocking... MeitY had passed an interim order on January 31, as a matter of emergency blocking 257 URLs and 1 Hashtag under section 69 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000...on the ground that these are spreading misinformation about protests and has the potential to lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country,” the source said.

Supreme Court judgments

The Centre in its notice quoted more than half a dozen Supreme Court judgments, including of Constitution benches, as to what is public order and what are the rights of authorities. The MeitY pointed out that the “prevailing situation” resulted into a “major public order issue” on Republic Day.

“The statutory authorities are doing everything possible to ensure that no adverse public order situation takes place, and no cognizable offences are committed. In light of these developments and as a part of due process, and as per the settled practice, an order was passed…” the source added.

“...under the scheme section 69A & the rule as applicable, only the subjective satisfaction of the Secretary, MeitY & the Committee is relevant and the satisfaction/judgement of the intermediary itself has no relevance. Further, there is no onus of proof on MeitY and Twitter being an intermediary cannot assume the role of a Court in contravention of the statutory rules as applicable,” the notice said.

Section 69A[3] provided for specific penal consequences in case of non-compliance of the directions issued under section 69A of the Act. It was “unfortunate” that though the order was received immediately, Twitter chose not to comply till nearly 3 pm on February 1 -- the time fixed for the meeting of the committee, the MeitY said.

The government noted that Twitter’s assertion in its letter dated February 1 that stock phrases and exaggerations / crude emotional appeals did not constitute inflammatory speech in the light of the judgments of the Hon'ble Supreme Court, was “meritless as the content attached to the said hashtag has been found to be directly falling afoul of section 69A of the Act”.