India police visit Twitter office after it tagged pro-Modi posts

Delhi police personnel sit outside a gate of Twitter India’s office at Crescent building in New Delhi, as police served a notice at Twitter's offices over flagged governments tweets as ‘manipulated media’ a day before. — AFP

Police visited Twitter Inc’s empty offices in India on May 24 following the company’s May 21 decision to label multiple tweets from accounts linked to the country’s ruling party as manipulated media.

The unexpected visit happened late Monday after Twitter labelled multiple tweets for violating its synthetic and manipulated media policy, a person familiar with the matter confirmed. The policy forbids users from sharing things that “deceptively promote synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm”.

Twitter’s offices globally have been shut since March 2020, with only Sydney presently open. It is not immediately clear why the police undertook the action.

The tweets from various Bharatiya Janata Party-linked accounts posted a document they alleged was from India’s rival Congress party, specifying failures by Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his handling of the coronavirus. Congress has complained publicly that the document was “forged” and the social media company labeled a handful of the tweets promoting it as “manipulated media”.

“Congress has filed the complaint. Police have the right to inquire about it,” said R.P. Singh, a BJP spokesman, on Tuesday. “Twitter has also marked the tweet as ‘manipulated media’. Now Twitter must show the proof.”

Among the tweets that were labelled was one from BJP spokesman Sambit Patra, which angered members of the country’s leading political party who felt Twitter acted inappropriately. A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.

Congress politicians decried the ruling party’s actions.

“BJP’s dictatorial behaviour will not last, the people of India will not be silenced, the truth will not be silenced,” Congress leader K.C. Venugopal said in a tweet. “Delhi police searching Twitter India offices to cover up for BJP’s fraud, prove how afraid they are of their lies being revealed.”

Twitter last month removed or restricted access to more than 50 posts at the behest of the Indian government, including tweets that criticised its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The company has also previously applied its manipulated media policy to US politicians, including former US president Donald Trump.

The social media giant permanently suspended more than 500 accounts and blocked access to hundreds of others in India earlier this year during farm protests, acceding to a government order to limit misinformation and inflammatory content. – Bloomberg

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