He is not the only one who organizes emergency efforts on social media.
On LinkedIn, companies and nonprofits have launched donation initiatives, Ashutosh Gupta, the company’s country manager for India, said in an email. Raheel Khursheed, Twitter’s former head of news in India, said reinforcing messages was a way that Indians could feel they were helping.
“It’s loving to see others help Covid-19 patients on Twitter, but it’s also worrying to see how little we can do,” said Khursheed, who now runs a video streaming company. “We do not know what to do in a pandemic. I do not have an oxygen cylinder at home, so other than amplifying, I can not do much.”
New Delhi’s intervention has put social media companies in a difficult position in one of their biggest markets, squeezed between their users and a government that recently introduced new rules that could make them responsible for not removing controversial posts.
Twitter declined to reveal the number of Covid-related posts on its platform in India, and when asked about its India-related traffic during this increase, Facebook sent CNN Business a list of seven community groups working on pandemic-related issues.
In a statement last week, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said it had asked Twitter, Facebook and others to remove about 100 posts from users it accused of spreading false or misleading information. Users had created “panic” over the latest Covid-19 wave by “using unrelated, old and out of context images or graphics, shared posts and misinformation about Covid-19 protocols,” the ministry said.
A Twitter spokesman confirmed that the company had withheld these tweets in India – but users outside could still see them. Modi is particularly active on Twitter with over 41 million followers.
The government order angered many social media users who criticized New Delhi for focusing on its own image instead of the crisis.
Pratik Sinha, co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, said he does not buy the government’s explanation that it went after fake news. “There are hundreds of thousands of posts with fake news on social media during the pandemic. Why only take down these 100 and leave the others?” he said. “Many tweets [which were removed] was in the form of meaning without element of misinformation, ”he added.
Some of the tweets were sent by opposition politicians accusing Modi of the devastating Covid-19 wave.
“What I’m surprised about is that this time Twitter actively removed these tweets – in what appears to be an act of censorship – when they stood up to the government in February,” said Nikhil Pahwa, an Internet activist and founder by tech site MediaNama. .
“The officer can be held personally liable in criminal cases regarding hosted content if the platform does not meet a number of obligations now imposed on social media companies, including an obligation to take down content based on a government order,” Anirudh Rastogi, founder of the technical law firm Ikigaw Law, told CNN Business.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place
Twitter is not the only company that last week drew attention to lay off posts.
On Wednesday, Facebook blocked posts with #ResignModi for several hours. “We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked for it and has since restored it,” Facebook said in a statement.
And Pichai remains optimistic about being able to work amicably with the authorities in the country. “I believe that one of India’s strengths is a deep – rooted democratic tradition based on freedom of expression and allowing for diversity of views … In the past, we have been able to work constructively with governments around the world. world and we will continue this approach here, “said Pichai.
India is one of the biggest markets for Big Tech companies and it would be difficult for them to stand firm if the Modi government continues to put pressure on them.
So far, most of these companies are close to the impact of the new rules on their operations. Experts do not think they have much choice but to comply if they continue to operate in the fast-growing market.
“I hope Twitter stands up for its users and rolls back [their decision to block tweets,]said Khursheed. But there is not much room for maneuver in terms of compliance, because now there is a prison for this kind of thing. “
“Institutions protecting freedom of expression in the United States are far stronger than they are in India.”