India denies threatening Twitter with shutdown


India on Tuesday denied claims it had threatened to shut down Twitter inside the country if it did not block accounts critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

The world’s biggest democracy petitions Twitter for content removals more than almost any other country, and the platform regularly takes down or blocks content at the request of Indian authorities.

Former chief executive Jack Dorsey said on Monday that the platform he founded had come under sustained pressure from Indian officials during his tenure.

Dorsey told YouTube chat show ‘Breaking Points’ that authorities had threatened to “shut down Twitter in India” as well as raid the homes of its employees, unless his company yielded to their demands.

Indian information technology minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar responded on Tuesday that Dorsey’s claim was an “outright lie”, while also accusing Twitter of repeated violations of local laws.

“It behaved as if the laws of India did not apply to it,” Chandrasekhar said in a lengthy statement posted on Twitter.

“They had a problem removing misinformation from the platform in India.”

Twitter said last year that India ranked fourth globally in the number of requests made by a government to remove content — behind Japan, Russia and Turkey.

In March, the platform blocked the accounts of several journalists during the manhunt for a radical Sikh preacher in the northern state of Punjab.

At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2021, the government ordered Twitter and Facebook to remove dozens of posts critical of the government’s handling of the outbreak.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders described social media suspensions during mass farmer protests in India the same year as a “shocking case of blatant censorship”.

Rights groups say freedom of expression is under broad threat in India, which has fallen 21 spots to 161 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index since Modi took office in 2014.

Indian authorities have regularly imposed blanket internet shutdowns during periods of unrest, including a four-month outage in occupied Kashmir during a major security operation in the disputed territory in 2019.