As India battles a surging second wave of COVID-19 cases and severe shortages of medical supplies, the nation's government has told Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to remove social media posts it says may panic its populace with misinformation.
The takedown requests were lodged on Friday, a day before India recorded more than 300,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time ever in 24 hours. India's previous peak came in September 2020, when cases reached nearly 100,000 cases a day before settling to around 10,000 a day in early 2021.
The situation is now very grim. On Sunday, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reported at least 2.6 million active cases of COVID-19, and 2,767 deaths in the previous 24 hours.
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Case numbers and deaths are suspected to be underreported as crematoria report more activity than official deaths in a country where accuracy of mortality data is far from guaranteed.
The new wave is so severe that hospitals have run short of oxygen and beds, so many Indians have taken to Twitter to ask strangers for help.
Alongside the pleas for help, some Indians criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s response, highlighting the lack of a nation-wide lockdown and the premier's appearances at political rallies alongside throngs of supporters.
Some posts made by those critical of Modi – including some from opposition politicians – have made it onto the takedown list. Twitter disclosed on the Lumen Database the emergency order it received from New Delhi to remove 21 tweets.
Among the banned tweets are the following by opposition MP Revanth Reddy.
For now the social media companies have agreed to take down listed posts for Indian users. Posts remain visible outside of India.
Reddy responded as fdollows:
Instead of monitoring twitter & other social Media,the government should control number of deaths and focus on #COVIDー19 crisis the country is facing.— Revanth Reddy (@revanth_anumula) April 25, 2021
Lifeline should be oxygen & vaccine and not media & social media @washingtonpost pic.twitter.com/9vYSzHg3Wy
India's Internet Freedom Foundation had this to say:
India will not be silenced and censored. We will continue demanding transparency, accountability and coordinating for emergency relief. For our right to speech — and today, our lives! https://t.co/M86M9GVMvk— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom) April 25, 2021
This is not the first time India has come under fire for censoring the internet. The nation's Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 have come under fire for endangering encryption and stymieing free speech. In the past the government has disabled 4G and wired internet services for some states, asked Twitter to issue fairly large bans, and filed charges against Amazon Prime India’s head of content over scenes in a TV program deemed to be offensive. ®