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India warns U.S. social media firms after dispute with Twitter

by Reuters
Thursday, 11 February 2021 16:49 GMT

People attend a Maha Panchayat or grand village council meeting as part of a farmers' protest against farm laws at Kandela village in Jind district in the northern state of Haryana, India, February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp were told they were welcome to operate in India, but only if they play by India's rules

By Sankalp Phartiyal

NEW DELHI, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Indian technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad warned U.S. social media firms on Thursday to abide by the country's laws, a day after a face-off between Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration and Twitter over content regulation.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad mentioned Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp by name and said they were welcome to operate in India, but only if they play by India's rules.

"You will have to follow the Constitution of India, you will have to abide by the laws of India," Prasad said

India rebuked Twitter on Wednesday after the U.S. social media giant did not fully comply with a government order to take down over 1,100 accounts and posts that New Delhi says spread misinformation about current farmer protests against new agriculture reforms.

Twitter said it had not blocked all of the content because it believed the directives were not in line with Indian laws. It permanently suspended some accounts and geo-blocked access to many others in India, though their posts could be read outside the country, the company said.

That prompted censure from India's tech ministry and calls from politicians to urge their followers to join Twitter's home-grown local rival, Koo.

Twitter has since blocked access to the bulk of accounts it was ordered to take down, an IT ministry source told Reuters, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media.

Twitter declined to comment.

It was not immediately clear whether those accounts had been suspended or geo-blocked.

Twitter and the Indian government have not made public the complete list of accounts and posts that were ordered blocked.

A lawmaker's account was among those geo-blocked by Twitter following the government orders.

Access to the account of Sukhram Singh Yadav, a member of the upper house of Parliament, was temporarily restricted in India after Twitter received a legal request from the government, according to a filing with Lumen database.

Yadav, whose account had been restored as of Thursday, had tweeted using the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide, according to Indian media.

That hashtag was designed to "inflame passions, hatred and was factually incorrect", an IT ministry source previously told Reuters, explaining why the government asked Twitter to ban content carrying it.

(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal Editing by Jan Harvey and Frances Kerry)