Police in India visited Twitter offices over 'manipulated media' label

·4 min read

Delhi police, controlled by India's central government, on Monday evening visited two offices of Twitter -- in the national capital state of Delhi and Gurgaon, in the neighboring state of Haryana -- to seek more information about Twitter's rationale to label one of the tweets by ruling partly BJP spokesperson as "manipulated media."

An hour into the search attempt, Delhi Police Special Cell team, which investigates terrorism and other crimes, vacated Twitter's offices because they were closed and there were no Twitter employees to engage with at the premises, according to live broadcast by several local news channels.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment. India, the world's second-largest internet market, is a key overseas region for Twitter and many other American technology firms.

New Delhi sent a notice to Twitter last week after the social network labeled a tweet from Sambit Patra, the spokesperson of India’s ruling party BJP, as “manipulated media.”

In the tweet, Patra had claimed that Congress, the leading opposition party in India, was using a so-called “toolkit” to derail the Indian government’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic. Alt News, a leading fact-checking organization in India, had debunked Patra’s claim.

Delhi police said it had received a complaint about the classification of Patra's tweet, which it said it was investigating, and visited the offices to serve Twitter India's head a notice of the inquiry. In a statement, the police said Twitter India's managing director's replies on the subject had been "very ambiguous."

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"Delhi Police is enquiring into a complaint in which clarification is sought from Twitter regarding the classification of a tweet by Shri Sambit Patra (BJP spokesman) as 'manipulative'. It appears that Twitter has some information which is not known to us on the basis of which they have classified it as such," Delhi Police said in an earlier statement to local TV channels and other journalists.

"This information is relevant to the enquiry. Special Cell which is conducting the enquiry wants to find out the truth. Twitter which has claimed to know the underlying truth should clarify," it added.

In a follow-up statement, it disputed the characterization of today's event as "raiding."

Several policy executives and the like questioned Delhi Police's motives.

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The move also comes at a time when Twitter and Facebook are inching closer to the deadline to comply with India's new guidelines to regulate social media.

In a new notice to both the firms, New Delhi warned that "failure to comply with IT rules could lead to loss of status and protections as intermediaries."

Today's development is the latest headache for the American firm, which has been struggling to maintain peace with the Indian government for several months.

After briefly complying with a New Delhi order early this year, the company faced heat from the government for restoring accounts that had posted tweets critical of the Indian government’s policy or the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two faced off again publicly last month after New Delhi ordered Twitter and Facebook to take down posts that were critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The story was updated throughout with additional details.