Kashmir: Twitter Removes Almost 1 Million Tweets, Accused of Bowing to Indian Censorship

Twitter has been accused of bowing to Indian censorship and suppressing freedom of speech in Kashmir, after nearly one million tweets were removed.

Almost 100 accounts were also made inaccessible to locals in the last two years, spurring claims that Twitter is contradicting the very values it purports to uphold.

The findings were revealed in a study by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Friday, showing that Twitter agreed to block more accounts in the region than in every other country combined.

It comes as council elections were held across the Indian-controlled territories in Kashmir on Thursday. The elections followed almost three months of severe crackdown on free expression beginning with New Delhi's revocation of the area's semi-autonomous status on August 5.

Reuters reported that roughly 4,000 people were detained by mid-September following the move, with journalists, activists and politicians among them, however, the CPJ's findings show that the crackdown on Twitter users—abetted by the company—started more than two years ago.

Data released by Twitter to Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center and its Lumen project, which was then published publicly and analyzed by the CPJ, showed that legal notices to the company directing them to take down tweets or accounts started to spike in August of 2017.

Twitter file pic
Twitter has been accused of bowing to Indian censorship and suppressing freedom of speech in Kashmir after nearly one million tweets were removed, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Getty

Since that time, Twitter agreed to uphold 131 of the 4,722 requests from Indian officials to remove content. That stands in stark contrast to the one approved request following roughly 900 requests made between 2012 and 2017.

Although the percentages may seem small, each request can contain scores of tweets and accounts. Since August of 2017, over 920,000 tweets that referenced Kashmir were removed.

The 131 upheld requests also make up 51% of all accounts withheld by Twitter worldwide.

"It totally makes sense the Indian government would go after Twitter and Twitter users, because Twitter as a platform is a really significant source of information sharing, for journalists and activists and regular citizens in Kashmir," David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, told CPJ.

Kaye has previously expressed his concerns about Twitter's "opaque" policy of removing content related to Kashmir at the behest of India, writing a letter to CEO Jack Dorsey in 2018 stating that the company needs to do more to challenge Indian censorship.

Experts told the CPJ that Twitter could do more to fight the legal notices in court—an avenue, the experts said, has not been explored.

Among those silenced in the last two years were the news outlets The Kashmir Narrator and The Voice Kashmir.

"In Kashmir, the Indian government wants whatever news there, to stay there," an administrator for The Voice Kashmir, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, told CPJ. "If they snatch social media away from us—where else can we share our voice?"

Twitter has faced similar criticism in Egypt, where President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has launched his own crackdown on freedom of speech and the social media giant has complied with his government's requests.

In response to accusations of censorship in how the company handles these government requests, a spokesperson for Twitter said: "Many countries have laws that may apply to tweets and/or Twitter account content.

"There is a transparent process for governments or authorized legal entities around the world to submit requests to Twitter.

"Twitter is committed to the principles of openness, transparency, and impartiality."

Kashmir: Twitter Removes Almost 1 Million Tweets, Accused of Bowing to Indian Censorship | World