Twitter strikes defiantly in the fight against India to restrict accounts in the country. On Monday, the company released its first official response since the Indian government called for the freezing of more than 250 accounts, which it restored despite an order from the IT ministry. The blocked accounts included Caravan, a news magazine, and people who criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We firmly believe that sharing information openly and freely is having a positive impact around the world and that tweets need to keep flowing,” the company said in a statement shared with BuzzFeed News.
Twitter’s statement is in the midst of a clash with India’s increasingly authoritarian government as millions of farmers protest agrarian reforms and shake the nation.
According to reports in the Indian press, the government on Monday asked the company to freeze nearly 1,200 additional accounts that it allegedly tweeted about the protests and that were being run from Pakistan. A report in the Times of India also quoted an anonymous government official as saying India was upset with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for liking tweets supporting the protests. A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.
On January 31, India’s IT ministry ordered Twitter to prevent more than 250 accounts from activists, political commentators and the caravan in the country from being viewed. Twitter initially followed suit, but changed course six hours later. In response, the Indian government ordered the website to re-suspend the accounts and threatened Twitter officials in India with legal consequences for violating the order, including a fine and up to seven years’ imprisonment.
But a week later, the accounts are still up and running, putting the company’s employees in India at risk of government retaliation.
“The safety of our employees is our top priority at Twitter,” said the company’s statement. “We continue to work in a respectful position with the Government of India and have asked the Minister, Department of Electronics and Information Technology for a formal dialogue.”
Twitter’s actions put it at the center of a debate on freedom of expression in a country where protests by millions of farmers against agricultural reforms that they say will affect their incomes have been cracked down on dissent. For Twitter, blocking the accounts again would mean activating this raid, but not restricting it, which has legal consequences.
“We review every report we receive from the government as soon as possible and take appropriate action in relation to such reports while making sure we uphold our core values and commitment to protecting public conversation,” Twitter said. “An update will be shared with the government through our established communication channels.”
Despite the polite language, some people, including former Twitter employees, saw a dual meaning in the statement. During the 2011 Arab Spring, the company’s co-founder, Biz Stone, and former General Counsel, Alexander Macgillivray, wrote a post clarifying the company’s position on freedom of speech. It was titled, “The tweets must flow.”