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Twitter restricts Rajya Sabha MP’s account after promising not to censure politicians

Account of Samajwadi Party MP Sukhram Singh Yadav has been withheld in India

MP-Sukhbir-twitter-account-witheld Rajya Sabha MP Sukhram Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party

Samajwadi Party MP Sukhram Singh Yadav has become the highest-profile Indian parliamentarian to have their Twitter account blocked by the social media company.

Visitors to Yadav’s account on Thursday were greeted with a disclaimer saying, “@MPSukhram's account has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.” Twitter has yet to elaborate on why the MP’s account was blocked.

Yadhav was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2016.

The move comes a day after Twitter partially implemented the Union government’s request to take down multiple accounts sharing “misinformation and provocative content”. Saying it had withheld only some of the accounts flagged by the government within India, Twitter said it would had not blocked the handles of civil society activists, politicians, or media as it would “violate their fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under country’s law”.

Twitter’s move on Thursday, however, contradicts this promise.

Speaking to Medianama, Yadav said, “To block the account of a people’s representative—this is one of the worst things to do in a democracy. If an MP is not given preference, then what can be said of the common man […] I belong to a family where I am the third MP; my uncle was an MP, my father was an MP. To withhold an account of such an MP is not a sign of democracy.”

Twitter, in 2020 and 2021, has taken a more proactive role in restricting content it deems in violation of its site rules, including limited the ability of politicians with large followers to tweet when they violate these rules. US President Donald Trump was the most high-profile figure to have been censured by the social media platform, which removed his ability to tweet after the January 6 storming of the US Capitol, which Trump is accused of abetting and encouraging.

In India, Twitter entered the eye of the storm around the farmers protests, with the Indian government claiming the platform was being used by Khalistani separatists. In particular, the government took offence at the use of a hashtag implying a looming "farmer genocide"—and threatened Twitter with penal action if it did not comply with requests to take down all such posts.

Twitter had emphasised that it will continue to advocate for the right of free expression of its users and that it is “actively exploring options under Indian law—both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted”.

Its earlier restrictions had been applied to politicians before: AAP MLA Jarnail Singh's account was temporarily blocked after Twitter blocked posts from a host of accounts including that of the Caravan Magazine.

Twitter’s tussle with the government was followed by the resignation of its Public Policy head, Mahima Kaul.  

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