Microblogging site X (formerly Twitter) on Thursday has said that the Indian government has issued executive orders requiring mandating action on specific accounts and posts. Non-compliance may lead to potential penalties, including significant fines and imprisonment.

However, the Elon Musk-owned firm also asserted that it “disagrees” with such actions and maintains that freedom of speech should extend to those posts.

‘Delhi Chalo’ protest

These are related to specific accounts and posts associated with the farmers’ ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest. The order to block them was issued on February 19 against 35 Facebook links and accounts each, 14 Instagram accounts, 42 X accounts and 49 links, one Reddit account, and one Snapchat account.

“In compliance with the orders, we will withhold these accounts and posts in India alone; however, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts,” the global government affairs arm of the company said in a post.

It further said, “Consistent with our position, a writ appeal challenging the Indian government’s blocking orders remains pending. We have also provided the impacted users with notice of these actions in accordance with our policies.”

This is not the first time that the microblogging site has been told by the Centre to pull down posts or take down accounts. In 2021 also, it had asked X to take down around 1,200 accounts for alleged ‘Khalistan’ links during the farmers’ protest. India has the third largest user base of X with around three-crore, after the US and Japan.

Emergency orders

According to sources, MeitY issued the emergency orders at the behest of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). These were in addition another order issued on February 14. Both the orders, issued on February 14 and February 19, will remain in effect for the duration of the protest, the sources said, adding that the social media companies can restore the accounts and channels once the protest is over.

X made its discomfiture at these blocking orders public. “Due to legal restrictions, we are unable to publish the executive orders, but we believe that making them public is essential for transparency. This lack of disclosure can lead to a lack of accountability and arbitrary decision-making,” the microblogging site added.

Internet societies and tech experts said that such orders are used to put pressure on companies.

“The government has been curating the narrative by using secrecy built in Rule 16 and Section 69 in the IT Act for some time. These orders are used to pressurise companies who now comply automatically. This censorship by proxy framework has been perfected by MeitY with no transparency...an unacceptable framework in a democracy like India,” Mishi Choudhary, a technology lawyer and civil rights activist, told businessline.