Twitter Under Pressure as it Aids PM Modi in Political Crackdown


Twitter is collaborating with the Indian government in a broad crackdown on free speech in the country, as it blocks accounts at the request of officials. The accounts of BBC News Punjabi and Jagmeet Singh, a Canadian politician, and former presidential candidate, have been blocked within India. The moves follow an intentional internet blackout conducted by the federal government throughout the northern state of Punjab as it conducted a manhunt for Sikh Nationalist leader Amritpal Singh. Twitter previously partnered with India to censor a BBC documentary on human rights abuses by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many critics claim that the social media giant is putting its profits over people.

The Indian government claims Singh was “promoting separatism and disturbing communal harmony” in recent speeches made by Modi. Singh’s followers reportedly stormed a police station in Punjab last month in order to free allies who they believed were being held unlawfully, which the government is using as justification for their actions. Punjab has been the site of much political animosity in India well before, though definitely during, Modi’s time.

During the 80s and 90s, the government conducted a brutal retaliation effort against separatist movements determined to establish a free Punjabi state separate from India. More recently Punjab was the center of one of the largest protests in recorded human history when nearly 250 million farmers took to the streets to advocate against a proposed set of laws that would have harmed small farmers and benefited the big business.

Resistance movements in the region have fueled the repressive instruments that the government has employed over the past couple of decades. To quote Sukhman Dhami, a human rights advocate and co-director of Ensaaf, “Punjab is a de facto police state. Despite being one of the tiniest states in India, it has one of the highest densities of police personnel, stations, and checkpoints.”

Critics of Modi’s administration have attempted to contextualize the crackdown with his ideological connections to the Indian Far Right and his reputation as an authoritarian leader and supporter of nationalist causes, but have been repeatedly silenced by Twitter and other social media outlets at the request of the Indian government. The pattern of behavior is nothing new, as the Modi Regime has been determined to make Twitter bend to their will since before the days of Elon Musk as CEO.

Following the layoffs that Musk implemented for the company internationally, Twitter India lost more than 90% of its employees, causing the remaining workers to be forced to cave to the government’s increasing pressure on them. Musk has often crowned himself as a champion of free speech and has promised that under his leadership Twitter will reflect that, but the company’s actions in India say otherwise. Musk’s detractors have labeled the company’s policy of giving in to government demands as both haphazardous and irresponsible, and claim that the company is willingly allowing the suppression of free speech.

In response to the events taken by Modi and his confidants, there have been large protests in several countries, most notably in England where many of the Punjab diaspora took to the streets in London and marched to the Indian embassy. Strangely enough, there has been no comment on the matter by the US government, and not even a whisper of criticism towards an American company’s involvement in the domestic affairs of a potentially authoritarian nation.