The Indian government persuaded Twitter to block a US student’s account as the country believed that the tweets from the individual were a matter of national security threat. As it turns out, the country pointed out the wrong person living eight thousand miles away in Texas and someone who isn’t – and never has been an Indian national.
Ryan Barenklau is a 21-year-old college student studying Crimea and North Korea. Barenklau posted a couple of tweets about North Korean missile tests, street protests in Hong Kong, and more, that were in no way related to India. Similarly, another student living in the UK had received the same notice from Twitter with regard to his tweets about Syria, Sudan, and other topics totally unrelated to both India or Pakistan.
“It’s pretty disturbing,” said Danny O’Brien, director of strategy for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “I think this is a consequence of social media companies responding to requests by governments they’re not in the same jurisdiction as, but also this increasing pressure to have social media platforms be the judges in deciding what is disinformation and what isn’t. They’re a lot quicker to take down original content about controversial or hot topics.”
The Indian IT Act’s Section 69A allows the country to block any website or account that harms its interests or persists to be a national threat. In this connection, it managed to persuade the social media giant into blocking and sending notices to a few of its users as an effort to curb misinformation originated from a Pakistani Twitter account.
According to The Daily Beast, an open-source investigator from Pakistan, known as Faran Jeffrey had tweeted several reports from Bahawalpur district in Pakistan and accused that the Indian Air Force had intruded into Pakistan’s airspace and dropped a bomb.
While his tweets gained some traction, they were mostly picked up by local news houses, and social media posts. He also tweeted that, “it would be a good idea to remain skeptical about these reports since we don’t know yet exactly what happened.”
Later, the Pakistani Air Force concluded that no such attacks took place. In the meantime, an Indian journal known as GreatGameIndia that covers geopolitics and international relations labeled Jeffrey as a fake news operative from Pakistan. It had pointed out to his previous tweets and also highlighted the fact that he worked with an organization that had close ties to the Pakistani military in the past.
The GreatGameIndia’s report was later published by a popular newspaper daily in the country and was subsequently picked up by the government. It is revealed that several unrelated individuals receiving notices and being banned from Twitter were taken from this list. Twitter seems to have followed up on orders of the Indian government and took action on the accounts mentioned in the list.
This incident clearly highlights the fact that tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are merely following the directives of various nations, and are implementing their orders without any discretion of their own.