Skip links

X protests forced suspension of accounts on orders of India’s government

The global government affairs team at X (née Twitter) has suspended some accounts and posts in India after receiving executive orders to do so from the country’s government, backed by threat of penalties including significant fines and imprisonment.

The team revealed its actions on Thursday, writing “In compliance with the orders, we will withhold these accounts and posts in India alone; however, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts.” X has appealed the order and notified impacted users.

“Due to legal restrictions, we are unable to publish the executive orders, but we believe that making them public is essential for transparency. This lack of disclosure can lead to a lack of accountability and arbitrary decision-making,” the House of Musk argued.

X did not discuss why India demanded account suspensions, but local media reported that India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT ordered social media platforms to block temporarily 177 accounts linked to ongoing farmers’ protests in an alleged effort to maintain public order.

India’s farmers want the government to guarantee a floor price for produce – a cause that saw several of the country’s farm unions strike on February 13. The government wants such subsidies restricted in the name of free market efficiency. Protests have erupted periodically across recent years and often brought turmoil to major Indian cities. In 2021, four protesting farmers were killed. Justice for the deceased and their families is another cause at current protests.

Local media suggest X was not the only social media platform targeted in recent days, with takedown orders reportedly issued on February 14 and 19. The latest set of orders was said to include 35 Facebook links, 35 Facebook accounts, 14 Instagram accounts, 42 Twitter/X accounts, 49 Twitter links, plus a single account each from Snapchat and Reddit.

Targeted accounts reportedly include politicians, prominent figures in the Unionist Sikh Mission, and accounts related to India’s farming movement.

India’s Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has linked the social platform content takedown – as well as internet shutdowns – to the strikes.

In addition to the blocking of Twitter/X handles of farm leaders previously in discussion with the Union Minister, SFLC alleged that the government imposed an internet shutdown in at least ten districts. Mobile internet services were also disrupted in several districts.

“These protests have once again highlighted a troubling trend: the use of internet shutdowns and social media bans to curtail communication and suppress dissent. While the government cites security concerns, these measures raise serious questions about the democratic space in India,” asserted the SFLC.

India is a leader when it comes to internet shutdowns across the world. A non-profit that tracks such shutdowns, Access Now, rated the country as having the highest number of government-imposed blackouts from 2018 until 2022.

In 2022, India racked up 84 shutdowns – around 45 percent of the shutdowns clocked worldwide for that year, according to Access Now.

India’s government justifies some shutdowns on grounds that large-scale protests imperil protestors and citizens alike, and asserts that silencing accounts and cutting off networks makes it harder to organize potentially dangerous events. Well, it would say that, wouldn’t it? ®