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Facebook, Twitter: A lifeline for Indians in the Covid crisis and a threat to Narendra Modi



He is not the only one who organizes help for social media.

In recent weeks, such as the Indian crisis Covid-19 deepened, American social media giants have become platforms of hope for millions of people. The world’s second most populous country has registered more than 18 million cases since the pandemic began – and its health infrastructure has collapsed under pressure as hospitals are without oxygen and drugs.
Family members of Covid-1[ads1]9 patients waiting to fill empty oxygen cylinders in Manesar, India.
As the authorities tried to provide adequate information, patients in distress and their families turned to them. Twitter (TWTR), Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or LinkedIn, asking for help.
Social media influencers, from Bollywood actors and cricketers to comedians and entrepreneurs, are stepping up SOS calls in their accounts. Others offer to cook, clean homes, and walk pets for Covid-19 patients. Some have even been able to find help for friends using the Tinder dating app.

LinkedIn companies and non-profit organizations have launched donation initiatives, Ashutosh Gupta, the company’s state manager for India, said in an email. Raheel Khursheed, a former Twitter news anchor in India, said boosting messages is one way Indians feel helped.

“It’s amazing to watch others help patients with Covid-19 on Twitter, but it’s also disturbing to see how little we can do,” said Hurshid, who now runs video streaming company. “We don’t know what to do in a pandemic. I don’t have an oxygen cylinder lying around at home, so other than amplification, I can’t do much.”

But even when Indians turn to social media during one of the darkest hours in the country, Modi seems to be leaning toward major platforms in an attempt to quell dissent. Last month, Twitter removed several tweets about Covid-19 at the request of the Indian government, including some that were critical of the prime minister’s pandemic.

New Delhi’s intervention has put social media companies in a difficult position in one of their largest markets, sandwiched between their users and the government, which recently introduced new rules that could keep them from carrying controversial publications.

This aerial photo, taken on April 26, shows the burning logs of victims who lost their lives due to Covid-19, on a cremation site in New Delhi.

Fears of censorship

Images of the grief unfolding in India in the background are shared on social media every day growing public anger against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for not doing enough to control the brutal second wave. In addition to asking for help, people post critical comments using popular hashtags, including #ResignModi, #SuperSpreaderModi, and #WhoFailedIndia.

Twitter declined to disclose the number of Covid-related posts on its platform in India and when asked about traffic related to India during the jump, Facebook sent CNN Business a list of seven community groups working on pandemic issues. .

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political party continued to hold election rallies in April despite the crisis.

In a statement last week, the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it had asked Twitter, Facebook and others to remove about 100 posts from users it accused of spreading false or misleading information. Consumers created a “panic” over the latest wave of Covid-19 by “using unrelated, old and out-of-context images or visuals, communally sensitive publications and misinformation about Covid-19 protocols,” the ministry said.

A Twitter spokesman confirmed that the company had kept these tweets in India, but users outside could still see them. Modi is particularly active on Twitter, with over 41 million followers.

The government order angered many social media users who criticized New Delhi for focusing on its own image instead of the crisis.

Pratik Sinha, co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, said he did not buy the government’s explanation that it had gone after fake news. “There are hundreds of thousands of fake news posts on social media during the pandemic, why download only those 100 and let the rest stay?” He said. “Lots of tweets [which were removed] they were in the form of an opinion without an element of misinformation, “he added.

Some of the tweets were posted by opposition politicians who blamed Modi for the devastating influx of Covid-19.

Pavan Hera, a spokesman for the opposition party’s congress, sent a legal notice to Twitter demanding his reinstatement, in which he questioned the Modi government for allowing mass gatherings at Coombe Mela, one of the largest religious pilgrimages on Earth. – and holding pre-election rallies. The notice said the removal of his tweets was “arbitrary” and “illegal”. Twitter has not responded to a request for comment.
Supporters of Modi's Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party fly to a helicopter carrying the prime minister as he arrives for a rally on April 10.

New uncertainty

Days after Twitter blocked posts criticizing Modi’s response to the crisis, BJP-run Uttar Pradesh police have filed criminal charges against 26-year-old Shashank Yadav, who uses the platform to try to find an oxygen cylinder for his dying grandfather, according to BBC.
Yadav is “reserved for spreading misleading information” about the supply of oxygen, a police officer told the Indian Express.
On Friday, India’s Supreme Court told states not to target citizens reporting their complaints on social media. “Let’s hear their voices. We will treat this as contempt if a citizen is harassed, if he wants a bed or oxygen,” the Supreme Court of India said.
This is not the first time Twitter has been caught in the government’s efforts to take action against dissent.
In February this year, while farmers protested against Modi’s new farming laws, the company clashed with the Indian government over its order to withdraw bills. Although Twitter eventually complied with part of the order, it refused to take action against journalists, activists or politicians.

“What I’m surprised about is that this time Twitter actively removed these tweets – in what appears to be an act of censorship – when they faced the government in February,” said Nikhil Pahva, an Internet activist and founder of the technology website MediaNama. .

So what has changed since then? Pahwa pointed to India’s new rules for major technology companies, which were revealed shortly after Twitter showed resistance. According to the new guidelines, large social media companies must appoint a chief law enforcement officer who can be held accountable in any proceedings if tagged content is not removed, legal observers say.

“The employee may be held personally liable in criminal proceedings related to hosted content if the platform fails to fulfill a number of obligations imposed on social media companies, including an obligation to download content based on a government order,” said Anirud Rastogi, founder of technology law firm Ikigaw Law, told CNN Business.

Shortly after the new rules came out, the government reacted to reports of company employees who risked arrest if they did not comply, saying it had never “threatened employees of any of the prison’s social media platforms.”

Tucked between a rock and a solid place

Twitter is not the only company that caught the attention last week of downloading posts.

On Wednesday, Facebook blocked posts with #ResignModi for several hours. “We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to and has since reinstated it,” a Facebook statement said.

Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told CNN’s Poppy Harlow that his company had not received any recent requests from the government to remove content.

And Pichai remains optimistic on the possibility of friendly work with the authorities in the country. “I think one of India’s strengths is a deep-rooted democratic tradition based on freedom of expression and allowing for a variety of perspectives … In the past, we have been able to work constructively with governments around the world and will continue this approach here.” said Pichai.

India is one of the largest markets for large technology companies, and it would be difficult for them to stand their ground if the Modi government continued to put pressure on them.

Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, has 400 million more users in India than in any other country. Twitter does not break user data for India, but third-party research shows that it is one of its larger markets. The professional social network LinkedIn considers India to be the second largest market with more than 76 million users.

So far, most of these companies are unsure about the impact of the new rules on their operations. Experts don’t think they have much choice but to consider if they will continue to work in the fast-growing market.

“I hope Twitter stands up for its users and goes back [their decision to block tweets,]”said Khurshid.” But there is not much room to twist in terms of compliance, because there is now a prison for such things. “

“The institutions that protect freedom of speech in the United States are much stronger than those in India.”




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