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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  1. 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.


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