Despite his promise to usher in a new era of free speech and disallow political interference on social media, Elon Musk’s Twitter has been significantly more compliant with government orders for censorship or surveillance – including from India.
According to Rest of World, which accessed the company’s self-reported data, Twitter received 971 government and court requests from October 27, 2022 to April 27, 2023. Requests ranged from demands to remove contentious posts and furnish private data to identify anonymous accounts. Twitter reported that it fully complied with 808 of these requests and partially complied in 154 other instances. Regarding nine requests, Twitter did not report any specific response.
“Most alarmingly, Twitter’s self-reports do not show a single request in which the company refused to comply, as it had done several times before the Musk takeover. Twitter rejected three such requests in the six months before Musk’s takeover, and five in the six months prior to that,” Rest of World said.
India made 50 requests, according to Rest of World, which was the third-highest. Only Turkey (491) and Germany (255) made more requests. Of these, 44 were full complied with, five were partially compiled and Twitter did not list any specific response to the last.
The data was based on information provided by Twitter to the Lumen database, which is a public clearinghouse for takedown requests and other government orders received by online speech platforms. It is maintained by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and has collected government requests for more than 20 years. Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and Reddit, among other platforms, report this data to Lumen.
The data also reveals that there has been a significant increase in the percentage of requests that Twitter fully complies with. In the year before Musk’s acquisition, the rate was around 50% but has since shot up to 83% – 808 requests out of 971.
The escalation in the number of requests may have been spurred by greater regulations on speech, particularly in countries like India, Turkey, and the UAE, according to Rest of World.
In an interview with the BBC on April 12, Musk said that his company had to comply with blocking orders issued by the Indian government, saying, “No, look, if we have a choice of either our people go to prison, or we comply with the laws, we’ll comply with the laws.”
In the interview, he was asked about the Narendra Modi government asking tech companies to implement its decision to ban the BBC’s documentary on his alleged involvement in the 2002 Gujarat violence.
“We then believe that some of that content was taken off Twitter. Was that at the behest of the Indian government?” he was asked. Musk demurred, saying he was “not aware of that particular situation”.
Musk justified Twitter’s decision to implement these orders by saying, “The rules in India for what can appear on social media are quite strict, and we can’t go beyond the laws of a country.”
The interviewer asked, “But do you get that if you do that, you can incentivise countries around the world to simply pass more draconian laws.”
(This story was first published in The Wire)
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