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Twitter sues Indian government, challenging orders to remove content

Lawsuit is a part of broader battle between tech giants and governments around the world, including the Middle East
Social media companies including Twitter are at the front and centre of the discussion over government censorship around the world.
Social media companies including Twitter are at the centre of discussions over government censorship around the world (AFP/File photo)

Twitter on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Indian government, pushing back against orders to censor content on its platform.

The lawsuit, filed in the Karnataka High Court in Bangalore against the Union Government of India, is part of a broadening battle between tech giants and governments around the world, including in the Middle East, where activists and journalists have raised serious concerns over the issue of censorship.

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Tuesday's filing comes after India's information and technology ministry had asked Twitter to take down multiple accounts and tweets that were non-compliant with its new IT laws that allow the government to block access to content in the interest of national security, among other reasons.

The government recently demanded the US company to take down tweets from Indian journalist Rana Ayyub, a critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist government; and Indian journalist Mohammed Zubair, who was recently arrested over his tweets. Zubair is a prominent journalist known for debunking fake news, monitoring hate speech and exposing Islamophobia.

Opponents of Modi's government have meanwhile accused his government of using the country's laws to clamp down on dissent and criticism.

Middle East censorship

Around the Middle East, activists, journalists and rights groups have raised alarm bells over the use of government-linked propaganda campaigns and censorship by governments to suppress dissent. Social media companies including Twitter are at the centre of many of these cases.

Twitter has removed thousands of accounts that have been linked to propaganda campaigns by governments, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 

However, at the same time, companies including Twitter have been accused of suppressing content critical of Middle East governments.

For years, Palestinians have highlighted how social media companies censor their content and have accused the social media giant of having bias towards Israel.

Activists and rights groups have accused Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, of censoring Palestinians and their allies, following the removal of pro-Palestinian posts. 

Nearly 200 Facebook staff members also accused its systems of unfairly taking down or down-ranking pro-Palestine content before and during Israel's offensive on Gaza in May 2021.

In 2020, Twitter suspended dozens of Palestinian and pro-Palestine accounts, a day after an Israeli ministry report was released on "phony" online profiles that criticised Israel.