Big Tech Blocked Criticism of Indian Prime Minister Amid Covid Surge

5 min readJun 8, 2021

When India’s doctors and hospitals were scrambling to handle a devastating surge in COVID cases, the Modi government was quickly turning social media companies into their own P.R. triage centres, demanding the removal of any posts critical of the government’s pandemic response. As the country faced the prospect of lacking critical oxygen supplies, the sensible response of any Prime Minister is the cut the airways of those screaming for medical attention.

Last week, India’s IT ministry ordered Twitter to block more than 50 tweets from being seen in the country. It was then reported in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Times of India that notorious big tech institutions like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp followed through with requests to remove posts critical of the regime. It was then reported in BuzzFeed News that people seeking oxygen and hospital beds complained of threats being made against their online groups, even going as far as to have the police force in the state of Uttar Pradesh file a formal complaint against a man seeking oxygen for his dying grandfather on Twitter. According to the complaint, the man’s pleas were merely “spreading misleading information,” and social media turned its head.

By Wednesday, it was reported in The Verge that Indian social media was circulating with hashtags such as #ResignModi, #COVIDEmergency2021 and #CovidSOS, all of which mysteriously disappeared during the critical days of pandemic criticism. According to the report, #ResignModi was eventually restored on Facebook within a few hours, though social media companies have remained closed lips regarding their reasons for the removal. Twitter confirmed the government issued an “emergency order” to censor the tweets via the Lumen database, a Harvard University project. It cites the government’s formal legal request, dated April 23, which included 21 direct tweets mentioned in the document.

“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law,” the Twitter spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “If the content violates Twitter’s rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may…


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