Twitter sues Indian government to challenge censorship orders


After over two years of fielding the Indian government’s crackdown with selective compliance and diplomacy, Twitter is finally going to court and suing to challenge what it describes as an abuse of power. Reuters reported the development citing an unnamed source; another publication reported that the lawsuit will be filed in the Karnataka High Court.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

On Tuesday morning, it appeared that Savukku Shankar, a prominent political commentator in Tamil Nadu, had his account withheld in India due to a request by legal authorities. It is unclear if his account comes under the scope of Twitter’s challenge. Shankar cited “sources” as saying that authorities from Tamil Nadu had directed the takedown.

But beyond that, the government has over the last few weeks renewed attempts to quash the reach of inconvenient activists, journalists and commentators. It ordered Twitter to take down the Alt News fact-checker Mohammed Zubair’s account, and while the company decided to defy that order, the government went ahead and arrested Zubair, while it implicitly threatened that a Twitter employee would be criminally liable if the company continued to resist takedown orders.

The company folded, among other things taking down tweets by Freedom House that said that web freedom in India was deteriorating.

This represents an escalation of the conflict between Twitter and the government, as the latter tries to use the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to expand censorship powers on social media, and the latter navigates a fine line between complete defiance of these moves and protecting users’ free speech rights.

Last year, the government had a similar showdown with Twitter, but the government backed off after Twitter refused to censor prominent activists, journalists and media publications’ accounts. Now, the government appears to be renewing this assault, and has even proposed an amendment to the IT Rules that would let it overrule suspensions on social media platforms. 

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