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Twitter suspends at least 500 accounts for ‘spam, manipulation’

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New Delhi: Microblogging website Twitter on Wednesday took down at least 500 accounts for “spam and platform manipulation”, as the fall out of the farmers’ tractor rally that turned violent in Delhi on Tuesday.

“We have taken strong enforcement action to protect the conversation on the service from attempts to incite violence, abuse and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm and by blocking certain terms that violate our rules for trends,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

The suspendedaccounts included those that called for a separate Sikh state Khalistan. According to the protesting farmers, Twitter had taken down accounts linked to “Sikh/Punjabi news analysis sites, activists, local organisations and Sikh magazines”. These include Sikhsiyasat, Isamvad, Sikhsahadat, Sikhpakh, Panthsj, Malwasikhjatha, Iamparmjit and Kisaanvichaar.

“The accounts that have been removed arbitrarily,” said Bhupendra Choudhary, of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Haryana. “The government is suppressing those who are raising their voice against the government. Many people have said we were writing about farmers and our accounts have been suspended. Twitter should take action against those inciting violence, but be transparent about it. There are people saying they have been wronged. “

The spokesperson added that the decision was taken using a “combination of technology and human review” and that “Twitter worked at scale and took action judiciously and impartially on hundreds of accounts …. regardless of their political beliefs, background and affiliations”.

“We have also applied labels to Tweets that were found to be in violation of synthetic and manipulated media policy. We are monitoring the situation closely and remain vigilant, and strongly encourage those on the service to report anything they believe is in violation of the rules,” the spokesperson added. Twitter did not divulge details of the accounts that were suspended.

The people whose accounts have been suspended can file an appeal with Twitter.

People familiar with the matter, however, denied that the accounts were linked to any particular group. “It should not be linked or seen in the context of any particular group. To state explicitly, this action is not only limited to accounts that may be linked to the conversation about Khalistan,” a person familiar with the matter said.

Twitter’s labelling policy include three categories — synthetic and manipulated media, civic integrity and Covid-19 misinformation. The policy faced severe criticism after the microblogging site banned former US President Donald Trump. Trump’s account was labelled for violating the civic integrity policy and was eventually taken down.

Thousands of farmers drove tractors from the borders of Delhi into the city for a massive tractor rally on Tuesday. Authorities say they defied police orders and turned towards important institutions in the centre of Delhi, creating a security nightmare on Republic Day.

They hoisted Sikh religious flags atop the Red Fort from where the Prime Minister delivers his Independence Day speech. Riot police beat protestors with batons and fired tear gas to scatter mobs at several places in Delhi. In return, the protesters tried to run down policemen with their tractors.

Asia Pacific Director at Access Now Raman Chima said that the decision was not transparent, clear and effective. “There is a large amount of content that seems to be taken down by Twitter, lately,” Chima said. “However, there is a genuine lack of transparency with respect to the content that was taken down and later labelled. Some of the content is still unavailable. There are examples, including instances of people calling for violence against protesters, that were only taken down after reports were sent to the Twitter by the media. Twitter’s lack of willingness to talk about the action they have taken is also in direct contradiction with action taken in the US.”

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