Anger mounted in India on Monday after the government ordered Twitter to remove posts criticizing its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has devastated large swathes of the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of downplaying the country’s response to the pandemic. The government order targeted posts criticizing Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, Twitter said on Lumen, a database that tracks government orders for online content.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to NBC News that it partially complied with the government’s request and withheld content in India only.
“India will never forgive Prime Minister @narendramodi for underestimating the corona situation in the country and for letting so many people die due to mismanagement,” wrote a state politician from West Bengal, Moloy Ghatak, on Twitter last week. “At a time when India is going through a health crisis, PM has chosen to export millions of vaccines to other countries.”
Ghatak’s tweet was among dozens of others listed in the government decree. Banned publications can be viewed outside of India.
The withdrawal comes as India reported 352,991 new infections on Monday, a world record for the fifth day in a row that has pushed the country’s total number of cases to more than 17 million since the start of the pandemic. According to Johns Hopkins University, 195,123 people have died from Covid-19 in India, the fourth highest total after the United States, Brazil and Mexico.
The outbreak has caused pain and desperation for millions of families across the country, many of whom are using Twitter to obtain hospital beds and ventilators, as hospitals face a severe shortage in healthcare.
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In a Monday call with Modi, President Joe Biden pledged America’s support for the Indian people who have been affected by the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, according to a White House statement.
The United States is providing a range of emergency assistance, including oxygen-related supplies, vaccine equipment and therapeutic products, according to the newspaper.
In a pair of tweets, Modi called the conversation with Biden “fruitful” and thanked the president for his support. He said the discussion highlighted the importance of “smooth and efficient” supply chains for vaccine raw materials and drugs.
Modi has remained largely silent on the crisis, while allowing religious festivals and election rallies in which thousands have participated to continue.
“Many people use social media to help those in need. So many lives have been saved, ”Rohan Gupta, social media chairman of the opposition party, the Indian National Congress, wrote on Twitter Sunday. “Now [the government] wants to muzzle our last resort to speak out in these difficult times.
Twitter said it looked at content the government asked it to remove after receiving a “valid legal request” from the Indian government, a spokesperson said. The law cited by the government is the Informational Technology Act, 2000, which allows authorities to order the blocking of public access to information to protect “the sovereignty and integrity of India” and maintain public order.
The Department of Electronics and Information Technology and Modi’s BJP party did not immediately respond to requests for comment via email and Twitter.
Human Rights Watch Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly told NBC News that “the government’s attempt to silence this criticism is neither proportionate nor respectful of rights.”
“Indians are upset and angry at the state’s failure to prevent these health care shortages,” Ganguly said.
In January, Twitter blocked dozens of accounts posted about the farmers’ protests after the government complained that users were posting content designed to incite violence, Reuters reported.
Earlier this year, the government also temporarily blocked internet access on the outskirts of New Delhi, as tens of thousands of farmers camped on the streets to demand the removal of new farm laws.