Twitter, which moved the Karnataka High Court against certain content blocking orders issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Computers, withheld a tweet from Toronto filmmaker Leena Manimekalai after the government issued a blocking order under the Information Technology Act 2000.
The the tweet in question included an image of the poster for Manimekalai’s latest documentary, Kaali, which depicted a woman dressed as the goddess Kaali smoking a cigarette and holding a pride flag, according to a disclosure made by Twitter to the Lumen Database – an archive of complaints and requests to remove online content. The image sparked controversy, with some saying it hurts religious feelings, and led to the registration of FIR against Manimekalai by Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police.
Earlier, the Indian High Commission in Ottawa had sent a missive to Canadian authorities asking them to immediately remove any “provocative material”. In a statement released on Monday, the high commission noted that they have received complaints from leaders of the Hindu community in Canada about the disrespectful depiction of Hindu deities on the poster of a film shown under the project. “under the tent” at the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto. Following the missive, the Aga Khan Museum issued an apology and removed the showing of the Manimekalai documentary.
“The presentation is no longer shown at the Museum. The museum deeply regrets that one of the 18 short videos of ‘Under the Tent’ and the accompanying social media post inadvertently offended members of Hindu and other religious communities,” the museum said. in a press release.
The government’s request to block the particular tweet came on Tuesday, according to data shared by Twitter with the Lumen database on Wednesday. The tweet is only blocked in India and is accessible from other parts of the world. Twitter voluntarily submits information about content and accounts it has blocked due to government orders with the Lumen Database, which is maintained as part of an independent research project by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society of Harvard University.
Queries sent to Manimekalai, Twitter and the Ministry of Electronics and Computers have not received a response.
Twitter’s compliance with the government’s blocking order comes as part of a legal action initiated by the microblogging platform against certain government missives ordering it to remove certain content posted on the site.
Twitter claimed that many of these blocking orders are procedurally and substantively flawed under section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act 2000. This includes aspects such as not warning users before removing content they post. According to a source, the company alleged that the Department of Electronics and Computing failed to demonstrate how some of the content it wanted removed fell under Section 69(A). In several instances, Twitter claimed that the basis on which several accounts and content flagged by the department was either “overly broad and arbitrary” or “disproportionate.”
An analysis of the Lumen database shows there has been a significant increase in the amount of content and accounts the company has blocked following government orders in June. Last month, Twitter made 12 separate disclosures about content and accounts it had blocked in India, up from two disclosures in May, three in April, five in March, four in February and nine in January. Each disclosure has several links to information blocked by the company.
For example, a disclosure made by Twitter on June 26 showed that it had blocked more than 80 accounts and tweets based on government requests in 2021. Blocked content included tweets from international advocacy group Freedom House, journalists , politicians and supporters of farmers protest.
According to Twitter’s latest Global Transparency Report, between January and June 2021, India accounted for the fourth highest number of legal content takedown requests made to the company. During this particular reporting period, Twitter received 43,387 legal requests to remove content specifying 1,96,878 accounts, with India accounting for 11% of global legal requests.
During the same period, Twitter recorded a 1,060% increase in the number of blocked accounts and stated that “the increase in the number of accounts withheld was in part the result of Twitter’s compliance with a blocking order issued by India under the Indian Information Technology Act 2000”.