Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter, has claimed that the Indian government threatened to shut down the platform and conduct raids on employees’ residences in the country.
According to Dorsey, India requested the removal of numerous tweets and accounts associated with the farmers’ protest in 2020.
He further alleged that Twitter was pressured to censor journalists who were critical of the government. In response, India has denied these allegations and accused Twitter of violating the country’s laws.
“This is an outright lie… Perhaps an attempt to brush out that very dubious period of Twitter’s history,” federal minister Rajeev Chandrashekar tweeted on Tuesday.
“No one went to jail nor was Twitter ‘shutdown’. Dorsey’s Twitter regime had a problem accepting the sovereignty of Indian law. It behaved as if the laws of India did not apply to it.”
Dorsey’s recent comments, shared during an interview with the American news series Breaking Points, highlight the already strained relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and Twitter.
This development occurs amidst a broader global debate surrounding Twitter’s responsibility in upholding principles of free speech, as the platform faces increasing demands in various countries to regulate its influence.
The remarks made by Dorsey add to the ongoing scrutiny and challenges faced by Twitter in navigating these complex issues.
In 2021, Jack Dorsey stepped down as the CEO of Twitter, and in 2022, the social media platform was reportedly acquired by billionaire Elon Musk.
In the interview, Dorsey said, “countries like India and Turkey made many requests to us to take down journalists’ accounts that give tactile information and remove them from the platform”.
He added that he was “surprised at the level of engagement and requests” by governments of the world to censor content on the platform during his time.
“India, for example, was a country that had many requests around the farmers’ protests, around particular journalists that were critical of the government,” he said.
“It manifested in ways such as: ‘we will shut Twitter down in India’ – which is a very large market for us; ‘we will raid the homes of your employees,’ which they did; ‘we will shut down your offices if you don’t follow suit.’ And this is India, a democratic country,” Dorsey told the show’s hosts Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti.
During the farmers’ protests against agricultural reform laws in India, the government requested Twitter to remove tweets using an inflammatory hashtag and accounts allegedly linked to Sikh separatist groups supported by Pakistan.
This request followed a violent incident on January 26, 2021, during which one person was killed and several police officers were injured. Initially, Twitter blocked around 250 accounts, including those of a news magazine, activists, and organizations associated with supporting the protests.
However, Twitter later restored the accounts, citing insufficient justification for the suspension. The Indian government subsequently ordered Twitter to block the accounts again and warned of legal consequences, including potential imprisonment for up to seven years, for non-compliance.
Twitter refused to block accounts belonging to media companies, journalists, activists, and politicians, citing their fundamental right to freedom of expression under Indian law.
This series of events has strained the relationship between Twitter and the Indian government, leading to a decline in their relations.