Indian police visited
office in New Delhi to investigate the company’s labeling of tweets from a ruling party spokesman as misleading, the government’s latest move against U.S. tech platforms amid criticism over its handling of the pandemic.
Sambit Patra, a spokesman for Prime Minister
Bharatiya Janata Party, in posts last week shared what he said was a document from the main opposition party purporting to show instructions for criticizing Mr. Modi’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. India has in recent weeks reported record highs of daily cases and deaths, making it the world’s worst current outbreak.
Twitter appended a label to Mr. Patra’s tweets stating that they contained “manipulated media.” A company policy prohibits the posting of images or videos that Twitter determines may be doctored and could cause harm.
The Delhi police, which report to India’s Home Ministry, said in a statement late Monday that they visited the social media company’s local office to investigate the tweets’ labeling. “It appears that Twitter has some information which is not known to us on the basis of which they have classified it as such,” the Delhi police said in the statement.
The Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, has said the documents Mr. Patra posted are forged. The party on Tuesday released a letter addressed to Twitter in which it highlighted tweets referring to the documents from several other senior government officials, asking Twitter to apply the same labeling to those posts.
Images released by news organizations in India showed several men in vests labeled “Special Cell Delhi Police” standing outside the glass doors of Twitter’s office. It couldn’t be determined whether or not police entered Twitter’s office.
A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment. Mr. Patra and a representative for the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The police action comes as India has been taking steps to exert control over U.S. tech firms in the country. India’s government last month ordered Twitter,
and Instagram to block about 100 social media posts criticizing its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, sparking public anger and allegations of censorship.
Twitter introduced the “manipulated media” label last year as part of rules against misinformation and has applied them to a video of
circulated by one of then-President Trump’s top aides.
Some in India called the government’s move heavy-handed.
U.S. Tech Companies in India
Read more on India’s moves on tech firms, selected by editors.
“An action to serve a notice can be done through email and post,” said Apar Gupta, executive director of New Delhi-based Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital-rights organization. But using police to do so could create a sense of threat, he said.
Raman Jit Singh Chima, a New Delhi-based executive at Access Now, a nonprofit that advocates for a free internet, said on Twitter that the move reflected “Blatant authoritarianism.”
The Journal reported in March that India’s government has threatened to jail employees of Twitter, Facebook and its WhatsApp unit in direct response to the companies’ reluctance to comply with data and takedown requests.
Twitter earlier this year blocked, unblocked, and blocked again hundreds of accounts in India for posting material that New Delhi deemed inflammatory during long-running protests by farmers.
In February, New Delhi set out sprawling new rules to govern online platforms like Twitter and Facebook, along with Facebook’s WhatsApp service. It said the new guidelines were needed to counter increasing amounts of false news and incendiary content online in the country, which is a major source of users and potential growth for the American companies. Those rules come into effect for some tech firms beginning this week.
The move by police to visit Twitter’s office “should be viewed alongside the timing and the larger operational environment,” said Mr. Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation. The new internet rules will “increase further government control on online speech,” he said.
—Rajesh Roy contributed to this article.
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