Social media is a lifeline for desperate Indians. And a threat for Narendra Modi
May 2, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 24: People are silhouetted against multiple burning funeral pyres of patients who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus disease at a crematorium on April 24, 2021 in New Delhi, India. With recorded cases crossing 300,000 a day, India has more than 2 million active cases of Covid-19, the second-highest number in the world after the U.S. A new wave of the pandemic has totally overwhelmed the country's healthcare services and has caused crematoriums to operate day and night as the number of victims continues to spiral out of control. (Photo by Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images)
Even as Indians turn to Twitter, Facebook and other social media during one of the country's darkest hours, the Modi government seems to be cracking down on dissent on the major platforms.
Raheel Khursheed, Twitter's former head of news in India, said amplifying messages was one way Indians could feel like they were helping.
Last month, Twitter removed several tweets about Covid-19 at the request of the Indian government, including some that were critical of the Prime Minister's handling of the pandemic.
New Delhi's intervention has put the social media companies in a difficult position in one of their biggest markets, wedged between their users and a government that recently introduced new rules that could make them liable for not removing controversial posts.
Twitter declined to reveal the number of Covid-related posts on its platform in India and, when asked about its India-related traffic during this surge, Facebook sent CNN Business a list of seven community groups working on pandemic-related issues.
In a statement last week, India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it had asked Twitter, Facebook and others to remove around 100 posts by users it accused of spreading fake or misleading information.
The government order angered many users on social media, who criticized New Delhi for focusing on its own image, instead of the crisis.
"There are hundreds of thousands of posts with fake news on social media during the pandemic, why take down only these 100 and let the others stay?" he said.
"What I am surprised by is that this time Twitter actively removed these tweets — in what seems like an act of censorship — when they had stood up to the government in February," said Nikhil Pahwa, an internet activist and founder of tech website MediaNama.
"The officer can be personally liable in criminal proceedings relating to hosted content, if the platform fails to satisfy a number of obligations now imposed on social media companies, including an obligation to take down content based on a government order," Anirudh Rastogi, founder of tech law firm Ikigaw Law, told CNN Business.
Soon after the release of the new rules, the government reacted to reports about company employees risking arrest if they fail to comply, saying it has never "threatened the employees of any of the social media platforms of jail term. "