Indian Gov't Uses National Security Law, Bad Information To Block Twitter Accounts All Over The World

from the censorship-starts-at-home-but-has-plenty-of-travel-options dept

US social media companies are continuing to act as proxy censors for governments around the world. This is adding some bizarre twists to stories of social media content takedowns as governments target posts by non-citizens located thousands of miles away.

India may have abandoned a fake news law, but it still acting as though unverified news is a threat to national security. In a case covered by Kevin Poulsen for The Daily Beast, an American college student's tweets were targeted by the Indian government, which claimed the student was engaging in spreading propaganda.

Twitter is warning a Texas college student that it might “be obliged to take action” after some of his tweets were ruled a national security threat by the government of India eight thousand miles away.

The notice issued to 21-year-old Ryan Barenklau on Saturday is part of a crackdown on a group of open-source investigators who spend their days sifting through data and imagery to glean insights on regional conflicts around the world. Barenklau’s focus is primarily on Crimea and North Korea, but in May a journal in India wrongly claimed his account was part of a Pakistani disinformation ring.

Barenklau was hit with notices from Twitter over five tweets, none of which mention India. The tweets discussed North Korean missile tests, possible US government action in Iran, the recent Hong Kong protests, and, weirdly, CBS News footage of the Notre Dame cathedral fire.

Others received similar notices recently originating from the Indian government, including a British student who tweets covered Syria, Sudan and the Gulf of Oman, and "NatSecJeff," the Twitter account of Pakistani investigator/British counterterrorism think tank member Faran Jeffery.

The scattershot approach of these takedown demands suggests the Indian government is using an automated tool to search for targets and issue notices. Securing the nation from online threats is a job that is too important not to do, but not important enough to do well.

But there's more to this than bulk removal requests. Research published by the Great Game India journal claimed these accounts were all part of a coordinated misinformation campaign by Pakistani operatives.

Great Game India pegged Jeffery as a fake news operative working for Pakistan, citing some of his other tweets, and the fact that he previously worked for a Pakistani institute with military ties. In May, an Indian newspaper aired the journal’s findings under the headline “Retired Pak officers behind 'fake news,’” publishing a list of seven additional Twitter accounts that frequently share Jeffery’s tweets.

The paper, citing Great Game India’s research, claimed all the accounts “have Pakistani roots."

Now that the damage has been done and content blocked, the journal's researchers are saying mistakes may have been made. But they're unwilling to go into specifics about which of the targeted accounts -- which include two US college students -- they're wrong about. Given the circumstances, it appears the Indian government is targeting Twitter accounts in the US and Britain for spreading misinformation… based on bad information.

Pushback from US tech companies has been minimal. Users no longer need to fear just their own governments, but every government in the world. As more governments enact laws directly targeting speech, the effects will continue to be felt around the globe.

Filed Under: automated censorship, censorship, india, social networks
Companies: twitter


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jun 2019 @ 10:46am

    Funny

    That is the same thing twitter does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 24 Jun 2019 @ 11:07am

      Re: Funny

      That is the same thing twitter does.

      Oh, Twitter is a government that threatens people with legal sanctions? Do tell!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Jun 2019 @ 11:35am

        Re: Re: Funny

        It's clearly a spam bot, here to show us how badly written it, or how trollish the author is.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Gary (profile), 24 Jun 2019 @ 11:41am

          Re: Re: Re: Funny

          I figured it was a neo-nazi complaining that he got de-platformed after calling for genocide. They are the first (not the only) to bitch about that.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 24 Jun 2019 @ 12:00pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Funny

            Ah. You maybe onto something there.

            Once, while setting up a school internet filter, my friends and I read some neo-nazi propaganda (It was better than trying to look at porn sites in mixed company). The site was... interesting... it how completely incoherent and self contraditory it was.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jun 2019 @ 11:40am

    Why should someone in the US care about what the Indian government thinks about their posts? Why should an Indian citizen care about what the US thinks of their posts? Why is Twitter apparently going to enforce other nations' laws against people not in those nations?

    Should Erdogan get to stifle global speech, too?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Sharur, 24 Jun 2019 @ 12:12pm

      Re:

      A citizen in one country's concern over the views of a foriegn government should be limited to: a) their assets under the control of that government, b) the ability of that government to sue them, c) the ability of that government to obtain their Extradition (Note that the US and India do have a Extradition treaty, but such action requires "dual criminality")

      Twitter, on the other hand, presumably doesn't want to lose access to a billion plus customers, so is willing to play ball with the Indian government, for economic reasons.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jun 2019 @ 3:31pm

      Re:

      I think the bigger question is, why would someone in any country want to use twitter?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Annonymouse, 25 Jun 2019 @ 11:49am

      Re:

      Well a number of US courts are more than happy to apply and enforce US law outside the US.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 24 Jun 2019 @ 11:50am

    This nations internet...

    Is Closed..

    Love all these countries, trying to share THEIR ideals and concepts over borders, that they Never enforced before..

    Finding REASONS to close your internet to your citizens, 101. Blame the NET for all your problems...Dont solve your internal problems Dont understand the Human condition, Just point fingers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2019 @ 4:15am

    and, weirdly, CBS News footage of the Notre Dame cathedral fire

    Clearly, he must have confused it with the 9/11 attack. So it fits again?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2019 @ 1:01am

    What's the big deal?

    Just make a competing site and ignore Government requests

    Wouldn't it be better if twitter just booted people with no explanation and saved all the drama? It isn't like they need a reason to boot people, so why put out these controversial reasons for doing so?

    Their site. Their way. The end.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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