He’s not the only one organizing relief efforts on social media.
On LinkedIn, companies and nonprofits have launched giving initiatives, Ashutosh Gupta, the company’s country manager for India, said in an email. Raheel Khursheed, former Twitter news manager in India, said amplifying messages was a way for Indians to feel like they were helping.
“It is endearing to see other people helping Covid-19 patients on Twitter, but it is also painful how much there is little we can do,” said Khursheed, who now heads a video streaming company. “We don’t know what to do in a pandemic. I don’t have an oxygen cylinder at home, so other than amplification there isn’t much I can do.”
New Delhi’s intervention put social media companies in a difficult position in one of their biggest markets, caught between their users and a government that recently introduced new rules that could make them responsible for not removing controversial publications.
Fears of censorship
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 push, Facebook sent CNN Business a list of seven community groups working on issues. linked to the pandemic.
In a statement last week, India’s electronics and information technology ministry said it had asked Twitter, Facebook and others to remove around 100 user posts it accused to disseminate false or misleading information. Users had created ‘panic’ about the latest wave of Covid-19 by ‘using unrelated, old and out of context images or visuals, commonly sensitive messages and misinformation about Covid-19 protocols ”The ministry said.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed the company withheld these tweets in India – but users outside could still see them. Modi is particularly active on Twitter, with more than 41 million subscribers.
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 fact-checking website Alt News, said he disliked the government’s explanation that it was attacking fake news. “There are hundreds of thousands of messages with fake news on social media during the pandemic, why just delete those 100 and let the rest stay?” he said. “Lots of tweets [which were removed] were in the form of an opinion without any element of disinformation, ”he added.
Some of the tweets were posted by opposition politicians, who blamed Modi for the devastating outbreak of Covid-19.
“What amazes me is that this time Twitter actively deleted these tweets – in what appears to be an act of censorship – after they opposed the government in February,” Nikhil Pahwa said, an Internet activist and founder of the technology website MediaNama. .
“The officer may be personally liable in criminal proceedings relating to hosted content, if the platform does not meet a number of obligations now imposed on social media companies, including an obligation to remove content. based on a government decision, “Anirudh Rastogi, founder of specialist law firm Ikigaw Law, told CNN Business.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place
Twitter isn’t the only company to gain attention last week for deleting posts.
Facebook blocked posts with #ResignModi for several hours on Wednesday. “We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it,” Facebook said in a statement.
And Pichai remains optimistic to be able to work amicably with the country’s authorities. “I think one of India’s strengths is a deep-rooted democratic tradition, founded on freedom of expression and allowing for diversity of viewpoints … In the past, we have been able to work constructively with governments around the world, and we will continue this approach here, ”Pichai said.
India is one of the biggest markets for big tech companies, and it would be difficult for them to hold on if the Modi government continues to put pressure on them.
For now, most of these companies are quiet about the impact of the new rules on their operations. Experts do not think they have any choice but to comply, if they want to continue operating in the market.
“I hope Twitter will stand up for its users and go back [their decision to block tweets,]Khursheed said. But there isn’t a lot of leeway in terms of compliance because now there are jail terms for that sort of thing. “
“The institutions that protect free speech in the United States are much stronger than they are in India.”