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India Orders Online Photos Critical of Pandemic Response Removed


India is in the midst of what is being described as a “devastating” wave of Covid-19 cases across the country which caused a large influx of social media posts critical of the government’s response. Hundreds of posts were ordered to be removed by India’s government, which are now blocked in the country.

Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, has been under harsh criticism internally for his relaxation of restrictions in the country prior to the latest outbreak, including allowing for large gatherings with no requirements for physical distancing and ignoring experts who warned him of the risks. Mr. Modi himself held large political rallies during that period.

As reported by the New York Times, India’s government ordered Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to remove around 100 posts across the platforms that were published by opposition politicians. Some of the posts called for Mr. Modi to resign.

Mr. Modi’s government stated that the social media posts that it has asked to be blocked created “panic about the Covid-19 situation in India by using unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals.” It added that these such posts may incite panic, which would hinder its ability to respond to the crisis.

Both Facebook and Twitter complied with the requests by making the posts invisible to those viewing them in India. The tweets below are among those that are blocked within the country along with the hashtag #ModiMadeDisaster among others.

The request, and decision, are causing a greater divide between India’s government and the American social media companies who have already come under pressure from Mr. Modi to more strictly police what is said online, which critics argue would be used to silence government detractors.

“This has been a trend, which is enforced with increasing frequency and severity for online media spaces,” Apar Gupta, the executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights group, said to the Times.

In a statement to the New York Times, Twitter says that if content “is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of Twitter’s rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only.” Facebook did not respond to the publication’s request for comment.

In February, Twitter blocked 500 accounts that India’s government accused of making inflammatory remarks about Mr. Modi in response to arrest threates made to its employees in the country. Twitter did not remove a number of journalist and politician’s accounts, despite Mr. Modi’s request, however.

Narendra Modi rose to power in 2014 with the biggest single-party majority in decades, as Reuters reports, and is therefore unused to the onslaught of public malcontent.

On Monday, India reported more than 350,000 new infections and more than 2,800 deaths, the fifth consecutive day it set a world record in daily infections. Even bleaker, some experts believe that the true numbers are likely much higher. India now accounts for more than half of all global new cases and hospitals are scrambling to find enough oxygen for patients. The United Kingdom today sent ventilators and oxygen concentrators to help the struggling country.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.