Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey accused the Indian government of censoring content and threatening to shut the platform down while he was CEO of the company, during an interview on Monday.
“India, for example, was a country that had many requests around the farmers’ protests, around particular journalists that were critical of the government,” Dorsey told the hosts of the U.S. YouTube show, Breaking Points.
Referring to the farmers’ protests in 2021, when farmers opposed new agriculture laws that were later repealed by the government, he said: “It manifested in ways such as: ‘We will shut Twitter down in India,’ which is a very large market for us; ‘We will raid the homes of your employees,’ which they did; ‘We will shut down your offices if you don’t follow suit.’”
“And this is India, a democratic country,” he continued.
The Indian government, which is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, vehemently denied the allegations and accused Twitter of violating the law. In a Twitter post on June 13, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India’s deputy minister for information technology, called Dorsey’s claims an “outright lie” and suggested it was an attempt to “brush out” a “very dubious period of Twitter’s history.”
More from TIME
“No one went to jail nor was Twitter ‘shut down’. Dorsey’s Twitter regime had a problem accepting the sovereignty of Indian law. It behaved as if the laws of India did not apply to it,” he wrote in the lengthy tweet.
Several members of the opposition Congress Party are calling out the government in response. In a public statement, Congress general secretary KC Venugopal called Dorsey’s claim “alarming and shocking” and suggested that similar pressures may have motivated the temporary suspension of opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter account in 2021.
Although Dorsey stepped down as CEO in 2021, his comments relating to the 2021 incident resurface the strained relationship between Twitter and the Indian government.
In 2021, Twitter complied with the Indian government’s orders to remove anti-government content during the farmers’ protests. It later restored most of the censored accounts, citing “insufficient justification.” In May of that year, the police raided Twitter’s office after the company labeled a tweet by Modi’s party spokesman as “manipulated media.”
In July 2022, it was reported that Twitter had filed a lawsuit against the Indian government in the southern state of Karnataka after it allegedly threatened company executives with criminal action if they failed to comply with takedown orders over 39 tweets and accounts, the details of which are under seal. Neither Twitter nor the Indian government confirmed the reports at the time, but the lawsuit followed a new set of sweeping regulations passed by India’s government to police platforms, which it said was necessary to tackle disinformation and hate speech online.
Dorsey’s comments also come at a time when the debate around Twitter’s role in supporting freedom of expression has intensified after billionaire Elon Musk purchased the platform last year. As TIME previously reported, Musk’s takeover of Twitter prompted speculation about the company changing its stance on India after it fired some 90% of the roughly 200 India-based staff shortly after the acquisition.
In January this year, Twitter complied with orders from the Indian government to censor posts sharing links to a controversial BBC documentary about Modi. Two months later, it blocked the accounts of more than 100 prominent politicians, activists, and journalists in India and abroad as the government conducted a manhunt for a local Sikh separatist leader.
While Modi and his ministers actively post on Twitter, free speech activists have voiced concerns over the government’s censorship of any criticism under the guise of national security. This year, India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index slipped from 140 to 161 out of 180 countries, according to the latest report released by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“While we must all demand accountability from Silicon Valley platforms, that must not enable unconstitutional power grabs,” Apar Gupta, the Founding Director of the non-profit Internet Freedom Foundation, tweeted in response to the latest Twitter allegations.
- Who Will Be TIME's Person of the Year 2023?
- Why Cell Phone Reception Is Getting Worse
- The Dirty Secrets of Alternative Plastics
- Column: It's Time to Scrap the Abraham Accords
- Israeli Family Celebrates Release of Hostage Grandmother
- In a New Movie, Beyoncé Finds Freedom
- The Top 100 Photos of 2023
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time