On Saturday, a Texas college student received a notification from Twitter that said the social media company might “be obliged to take action” after India ruled his tweets a national security threat.
Yes, that India — the country that sits nearly nine thousand miles away from the “Lone Star State.”
According to The Daily Beast, the student, 21-year-old Ryan Barenklau, is part of a team of open-source investigators who work to collect intelligence through public data, photos, and documents around the world.
While Barenklau normally focuses on gathering information from Crimea and North Korea, an India-based journal published a story last month that suspected he was part of a Pakistani disinformation ring.
Now, the Indian government — wielding their powerful and stringent censorship laws — went to Twitter and demanded Barenklau and others in the report be banished from the platform.
The Daily Beast reported that four of the multiple accounts reported by the Indian government were suspended from Twitter for unrelated violations — and the social platform has yet to explain why.
“It’s pretty disturbing,” Danny O’Brien said. O’Brien is the director of strategy for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“I think this is a consequence of social media companies responding to requests by governments they’re not in the same jurisdiction as, but also this increasing pressure to have social media platforms be the judges in deciding what is disinformation and what isn’t.”
O’Brien added, “They’re a lot quicker to take down original content about controversial or hot topics.”
Twitter never validated the claims that the Indian government made — and that’s where things gets really weird.
If someone at Twitter had taken just a few few minutes to look through the Barenklau tweets that were reported, they would have seen that his tweets had nothing to do with India.
But they didn’t take the time to figure that out and instead, jumped the gun and sent an email to Barenklau citing specific tweets that were in violation.
Reportedly, one tweet was a comment from Barenklau regarding a North Korean missile test, two others were quotes of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledging action against Iran, another was a clip of street protests in China and the last tweet pertained to the fire that nearly burned down Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
While there’s no rhyme or reason as to why these tweets were considered a threat, Barenklau seemed to have an idea about what really happened.
In a phone call with The Daily Beast, the Texas A&M senior suspected India might be abusing their censorship laws and automated takedown notices.
“What we think is going on is there’s some sort of mass campaign,” said Barenklau. “The Indian government has obviously sent Twitter a list of accounts that they think ought to be banned.”
This suspicion isn’t out of the realm of possibility, given that Section 69A of India’s Information Technology Act gives the Indian government authority to order a block on virtually any internet entity “in the interest of the defense of the country, its sovereignty and integrity, the security of the State.”
This is a massively concerning issue that Twitter needs to work out before it becomes worse.
Bowing to the will of countries opposed to free speech and expression is not something Americans will stand for, ever.
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