Indian Police Visit Twitter’s Office After Politician’s Tweet Is Labeled as Misleading

A politician in India is being investigated by the country’s police force after he tweeted a link to a Wikipedia article about the country’s demand for a third-party investigation into the death of an 18-year-old woman who died days after receiving a medical abortion.

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Indian police visit

Twitter Inc.

in New Delhi to investigate what it said were false tweets by a ruling party official. This is the government’s latest move against US technology platforms in light of criticism of its handling of the pandemic.

Sambit Patra, spokesperson for the Prime Minister

Narendra Modi

The Bharatiya Janata Party last week reportedly shared a document from the main opposition party, which allegedly contained instructions critical of Mr Modi’s actions on the Covid-19 pandemic. India has reported a record number of cases and deaths per day in recent weeks, making it the world’s worst epidemic.

Twitter has flagged Mr Patra’s tweets as containing manipulated media. The company’s policy prohibits posting images or videos that Twitter believes could be manipulated and cause harm.

The Delhi police, which falls under the Indian home ministry, said in a statement on Monday that it had gone to the local office of the social media company to investigate the tagging of the tweets. Twitter seems to have information that we are not aware of, based on which they have classified it as such, Delhi police said in a statement.

The Indian National Congress, the largest opposition party, said the documents posted by Mr Patra were false. On Tuesday, the party sent a letter to Twitter drawing attention to tweets with links to documents from several other high-ranking officials and asking Twitter to put the same label on those posts.

Police barricade at the gates of Twitter offices in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Photo:

Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Footage released by news organizations in India shows several people wearing vests in front of the glass doors of Twitter offices that read Delhi Police Special Cell. It could not be determined if police entered the Twitter office.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment. Mr Patra and a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

The police action comes at a time when India is taking steps to monitor US technology companies operating in its territory. Last month, the Indian government issued instructions to Twitter,

Facebook Inc.

and Instagram to block about 100 social media posts criticizing the company’s response to the Covid 19 outbreak in the country, prompting public anger and accusations of censorship.

Last year, Twitter introduced the term manipulated media as part of its rules against disinformation, applying it to videos of

Joe Biden

distributed by one of President Trump’s top aides at the time.

In India, some have termed the government’s decision as harsh.

US technology company in India

Read more about India’s actions for technology companies selected by the editors.

Delivery can be by email or by post, said Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a New Delhi-based digital rights organization. But using police can create a sense of threat, he said.

Raman Jeet Singh Cheema, executive director of Access Now, a New Delhi-based nonprofit that advocates for a free internet, said on Twitter that the decision showed blatant authoritarianism.

In March, The Journal reported that the Indian government had threatened to jail employees of Twitter, Facebook and its WhatsApp unit in response to the companies’ unwillingness to comply with requests and data seizures.

Earlier this year, Twitter suspended, unblocked and reinstated hundreds of accounts in India for posting content deemed inflammatory by New Delhi during the prolonged farmers’ protests.

The Covid 19 crisis in India has led to a record number of cases and deaths. The WSJ reviews the events that led to the fastest wave of infections since the pandemic began and what it means for the world. Photo: Samuel Rajkumar/Reuters

In February, New Delhi issued sweeping new rules that apply to online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as Facebook-owned WhatsApp. She said the new rules are needed to combat the growing amount of fake news and inflammatory content online, which is a major source of users and potential growth for U.S. companies. These rules go into effect for certain technology companies starting this week.

According to Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation, the police visit to Twitter’s offices should be seen in the context of the times and the broader work environment. He said the new internet rules would tighten government control over online speech.

-Rajesh Roy contributed to this article.

Email Newley Purnell at newley.purnell@wsj.com.

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