Hindutva Watch, with its more than 79,000 followers on X and its almost daily documentation of riots, violence and cases of BJP politicians Spouting anti-Muslim rhetoric does little to bolster the party’s image. The cases documented by Hindutva Watch also go against the image of a US ally. committed to “freedom, democracy, human rights, inclusion, pluralism and equal opportunities for all citizens,” as proclaimed in a joint statement released during Modi’s visit to the United States in June 2023.
And Chima says that right now, before the official campaign season begins in India, is a critical time to control the information ecosystem. Once the election begins in earnest, it will be more difficult for government officials working for the executive branch to issue blocking orders without possibly violating the country’s election code.
“We are concerned about the signal they are trying to send to the technology platforms, that these are people that the government does not want to have on the web,” he says. “From now until the end of February, is the time when the government will send as many messages as it can using these types of tools.”
Mishi Choudhary, a lawyer and general counsel at Virtu and former legal director of the Software Freedom Law Center, says the laws around these blocking orders are particularly insidious because the government is not required to explain what happens to a website, an account or a fragment of the content is dangerous or infringing, making it difficult for platforms, ISPs or users to reject it.
“They’re left in the dark to figure out what’s really going on,” he says. And although they must be issued through the courts, blocked websites or users “never receive a hearing.”
“The orders are issued entirely by officials of the Executive Branch. There are no independent controls,” says Chima. “It is the officials who decide whether the orders should be carried out and their officials who then review their own orders. You can’t even get copies of the data from the orders themselves, from the blocking orders, because the government claims they are confidential.”
And for platforms, resisting these takedown orders can be difficult, if not impossible, especially in such a populous country: India is X’s third largest market, with some 30 million users. In 2021, when thousands of farmers protested the new agricultural laws, MeitY issued hundreds of block orders to X, then to Twitter. The platform challenged several of the orders in court, arguing that many of the blocking orders did not meet the government’s own standards for deportation. But in July 2023, the case was firedand the company was fined $61,000 for not carrying out the decommissioning quickly enough.
India also has what many experts call “hostage taking laws” which require platforms to designate a legal representative in the country who can be held liable, or even arrested, if a platform fails to comply with government orders. After Elon Musk took charge of , which made it even more difficult to discern what is really happening.