India objects to ‘manipulated’ label on politicians tweets; asks removal of reference to ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus

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The Indian government has expressed strong objection to Twitter for classifying tweets by Indian politicians as “manipulated media,” and separately asked social media firms to remove posts that refers to an “Indian variant” of the coronavirus.

The first notice comes two days after Twitter labeled a tweet from Sambit Patra, the spokesperson of India’s ruling party BJP, as “manipulated media.” In the tweet, Patra claimed that Congress, the leading opposition party in India, was using a so-called “toolkit” to derail the Indian government’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic. Alt News, a leading fact-checking organization in India, debunked Patra’s claim.

The notice didn’t mention any politician by name nor did it identify any tweets.

In the notice, the Indian government said Twitter chose to designate tweets as “manipulated” “prejudicially” even though an investigation hadn’t been conducted, and also “asked” Twitter to remove such tags in the interest of “fairness and equity.”

Twitter’s action, the Indian government said, dilutes its credibility as a “neutral and unbiased” platform as well as puts a “question mark on the status of Twitter as an ‘Intermediary.’ ” Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media firm with a certain size — over a few million users — are identified as an “intermediary” in India, according to a recently unveiled law, which provisions some of the world’s toughest rules for internet companies.

A spokesperson of Twitter — which has labeled several politicians’ tweets over the years to provide more context or correction, citing news media and independent fact checkers or its own technology, in many markets — told TechCrunch that the company had no comment.

In a separate letter to social media firms, India’s IT ministry asked the firms to take down posts that refers to an “Indian variant” of the coronavirus.

“This is completely FALSE. There is no such variant of Covid-19 scientifically cited as such by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO has not associated the term ‘Indian Variant’ with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in any of its reports,” the ministry wrote in the second letter, which was first reported by Reuters.

The new notices underscore the dilemma Twitter faces in India, the world’s second-largest internet market, where it has amassed more than 100 million users and has also backed local startups. Facebook counts India as its biggest market by users, and has made even bigger bets on Indian firms.

The Jack Dorsey-led company has grappled with several tough situations in India this year. After briefly complying with a New Delhi order early this year, the company faced heat from the government for restoring accounts that had posted tweets critical of the Indian government’s policy or the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two faced off again publicly last month after New Delhi ordered Twitter and Facebook to take down posts that were critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week Singapore ordered Twitter and Facebook to issue corrections over what it said were “online falsehoods” that imply a new coronavirus variant had originated in the country.

The story was updated with details of the second letter.