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.
India learned the wrong lesson from China. Censorship about public health threats contributes to a disastrous response. Yet now the Indian government is insisting that Twitter take down some Tweets that criticize its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. https://t.co/oCtZaL7a53 pic.twitter.com/sGYwwuiY0J
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) April 25, 2021
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.
Because you know it’s easier to take down tweets than it is to ensure oxygen supplies.
Via Shuddhabrata Sengupta
"On the Centre's request, Twitter takes down 52 tweets criticising India's handling of the pandemic"
— Aftab Alam (@aftabistan) April 25, 2021
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.
India will never forgive PM @narendramodi for underplaying the corona situation in the country and letting so many people die due to mismanagement.
At a time when India is going through a health crisis,PM chose to export millions of vaccine to other nations #ModiHataoDeshBachao pic.twitter.com/5sQRfT7kpB
— Moloy Ghatak (@GhatakMoloy) April 20, 2021
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.
dear friends, yesterday I lost my father due to covid.
Right now my mom's oxygen level is 80 – 85. She is in home isolation after had covid positive ten days back.
Please help me in getting an oxygen cylinder in South West Delhi.
I don't want to lose my mom now.#SOSDelhi
— Dr. Ajay Koli (@ajay_kolii) April 25, 2021
“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.
— Revanth Reddy (@revanth_anumula) April 17, 2021
— Dharmbeer Singh Lamba 👩🌾 (@DharmbeerLamba_) April 25, 2021
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.