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India: Police visit Twitter offices over flagged tweet

May 25, 2021

Police in India's capital visited Twitter's offices to serve a notice about a tweet being tagged as "manipulated media." The post in question was by the ruling party's spokesperson Sambit Patra.

An Indian uses Twitter on his smartphone. (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP)
The govt had ordered Twitter to take down some posts critical of the PM. Image: Diptendu Dutta/AFP

Tensions between Twitter and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government reached a new level, after a complaint was filed with the police over a flagged tweet.

Police in India's capital on Monday visited Twitter offices in Delhi and neighboring Gurugram to serve notice about an investigation into the tagging of a post by a ruling party spokesperson as "manipulated media."

What was the tweet about?

Delhi police said they received a complaint about a tweet by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Sambit Patra being tagged as "manipulated media."

The tweet has since been deleted.


"This was necessary as we wanted to ascertain who is the right person to serve a notice (to), as replies by Twitter India MD have been very ambiguous," said a police statement.

Visiting officials found the offices shut, due to the ongoing coronavirus situation in India.

The tweet in question shared a document allegedly showing the opposition Congress party's plan to tackle the pandemic.

The opposition has claimed that the document is fake, and condemned the visit at Twitter's offices.

According to Twitter's policy, a post is tagged as "manipulated media" if it includes "media (videos, audio, and images) that have been deceptively altered or fabricated."

Police move was 'clearly an overreach'

A leading Indian fact-checking website Alt News said after analyzing the documents that some were created using a false letterhead. 

"What the Delhi Police did yesterday is clearly an overreach," Pratik Sinha, co-founder of Alt News told DW.

He added that the burden of proving lies with the ruling party. "They are the ones who have to justify whether they are authentic or not."

"Alt News did a detailed story on who put out the first screenshot, the file properties. Ten days before the toolkit controversy, a Modi-supporting account put out a thread that looks identical to the toolkit. There are so many red flags," Sinha said.

The incident has "raised questions" about institutional freedoms and the actions of police, he added.

Govt's troubled relationship with Twitter

The move on Monday was the latest in a series of escalating tensions between social media giants and India's ruling party.

The government has asked Twitter on several occasions to take down posts critical of them. 

On Friday, India's Information Technology Ministry issued an order calling on Facebook and Twitter to remove hundreds of thousands of posts referencing the "Indian variant" of the coronavirus.

Last month, Twitter took down dozens of posts that were critical of the government's handling of the second wave during the pandemic. 

Indian politicians have made several attempts to clamp down on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, especially in recent months.

In February, authorities had arrested 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi for her tweet including a toolkit on how to help the farmers' protest in India. 

DW's Aditya Sharma contributed to this report.

tg/rs (AFP, Reuters)