Former CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, has made allegations that the Indian government threatened to shut down the social media platform and conduct raids on the houses of its employees in India. In an interview with a US-based YouTube channel, Dorsey claimed that the government had requested the removal of tweets and accounts associated with the farmers’ protest in 2020. He also stated that Twitter was asked to censor journalists critical of the government of India.
The Indian government has vehemently denied the allegations made by Dorsey and accused Twitter of violating Indian laws. Rajeev Chandrashekar, a federal minister, tweeted that Dorsey’s claims were “an outright lie” and an attempt to erase a controversial period in Twitter’s history. Chandrashekar emphasized that no one was jailed, Twitter was not shut down, and Dorsey’s tenure saw a refusal to accept the sovereignty of Indian law.
The strained relationship between the Indian government and Twitter
The allegations made by Dorsey add to the already strained relationship between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Twitter. This comes at a time when Twitter is facing growing scrutiny regarding its role in supporting free speech principles, with demands from various countries to regulate the platform’s influence.
During the interview, Dorsey mentioned that countries like India and Turkey had made numerous requests to take down accounts of journalists providing on-the-ground information and censor their content. He expressed surprise at the extent of the engagement and requests made by governments during his tenure. In the case of India, Dorsey cited requests related to the farmers’ protests and journalists critical of the government. He revealed that the Indian government threatened to shut down Twitter in the country, conducted raids on employees’ homes, and warned of office closures if Twitter did not comply.
Background on Twitter’s Clash with the Indian Government
The Indian government had previously requested Twitter to remove tweets using incendiary hashtags and accounts allegedly associated with Pakistan-backed Sikh separatist groups during the farmers’ protests. Twitter initially blocked 250 accounts but later restored them, citing insufficient justification for the suspension. The government then ordered Twitter to block the accounts again, warning of legal action, including potential imprisonment for employees, if the company failed to comply. Twitter defended its stance, citing the fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.
Since then, relations between Twitter and the Indian government have remained strained. Critics argue that new internet regulations in India grant the government direct control over social media platforms, leading to concerns about censorship. Even Elon Musk, who succeeded Dorsey as Twitter CEO, has acknowledged the strict rules for social media content in India.
Dorsey compared India’s actions to those of Turkey and Nigeria, where the platform faced similar challenges and threats of shutdown or restrictions. He highlighted the difficulty of operating in Nigeria due to fears for employees’ safety in the face of potential government actions.