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Twitter censors tweets critical of India's COVID response

Dharvi Vaid
April 25, 2021

The Indian government requested Twitter take down dozens of tweets critical of the country's pandemic response, which has drawn global attention as case numbers and deaths continue surging to record levels.

A wrapped body of a COVID victim, Delhi, April 21
A body of a COVID victim is prepared for cremation in DelhiImage: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

Twitter on Saturday said it took down dozens of tweets in India that were critical of the Indian government's recent pandemic response, as a second wave of COVID infections continues to bring the country's healthcare system to its knees. 

Over 20 tweets, some from Indian lawmakers, were reportedly withheld from public view in India in response to a notice by the central government to the social media giant.

The government made the request on April 23, and it was disclosed by Lumen Database, an online transparency project run by Harvard University. Lumen said Indian authorities made the request under the Information Technology Act, which has drawn criticism as being a tool for censorship

"When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter's Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. 

What tweets were blocked?

The list of censored tweets includes several by parliamentarian Revanth Reddy from the opposition Congress party, West Bengal state minister Moloy Ghatak, and filmmakers Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das.

Many tweets denounced the Narendra Modi led-government for failing to bolster India's crumbling healthcare system.

Other tweets questioned the decision to hold election rallies and the Hindu gathering Kumbh Mela as COVID cases continued to soar. 

A tweet by parliamentarian Revanth Reddy, which is blocked in India, carried the hashtag: #ModiMadeDisaster

Another user posted the notice he had received from Twitter:

The number of new COVID infections in India is currently setting records nearly every day. Images of mass cremations for COVID victims are being shared on social media, along with criticism of the Modi government.

Hospitals across the country are running out of beds, oxygen and medicines, and people are turning to social media with frantic calls for help.