Covid-19: How India tightens the noose on social networks



For an extraordinary health crisis, the great means. The Indian government has pulled out the big guns to fight… social networks. First, by requiring them to hide content that mentions “Indian variant”.

In a letter addressed to the executives of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to which the agency was able to access Reuters, we can read : “We have learned that a false statement is circulating online, according to which an ‘Indian variant’ of the coronavirus is spreading in all countries. This is completely WRONG. ” The Hindu nationalist government prefers the scientific term, also used by the WHO, B.1.617.

The platforms have expressed their concern. The task promises to be daunting: it would concern thousands of publications and induce censorship based on keywords (the famous hashtags).

Held responsible for all online publications

“India has been controlling social networks very closely for about ten years and passed a law requiring them to transmit any private information or to censor at the slightest government request”, traces the advisor at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) for India, Jean-Joseph Boillot. But the country has just given a new turn of the screw to the giants of the Web.

On Wednesday May 26, new regulations came into force which undermines the last guarantees of confidentiality of social networks. Twitter got worried “The use of intimidation tactics by the police with regard to the application of (its) general conditions of use”.

Two days earlier, Monday 24, its New Delhi offices were raided for stamping “Manipulated media” a tweet from a spokesperson for BJP, the ruling Hindu nationalist party. With the new rules, networks will have to appoint a compliance officer, who will be held criminally responsible for content published on the platform, in addition to their authors. A world first.

Don’t offend the Delhi regime

On the side of encrypted messaging, India also intends to lift the digital veil. With 500 million users in the country, WhatsApp (a subsidiary of Facebook) has filed a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court to block the new rules which, it considers, “Will seriously harm” the privacy of its users. They require you to break the encryption chain to create a database. ” traceable “ messages. Objective: to find the trace of “First author” a message deemed contentious, that is to say one that would undermine Indian sovereignty, state security or public order.

“It is not impossible that justice will succeed”, confides Jean-Luc Racine, emeritus researcher at the CNRS and specialist in India. “The Hautes Cours are very much involved in the debate on how the pandemic is managed. ” This is the crux of the matter: the Indian government is very susceptible to criticism.

The overwhelming images of overwhelmed hospitals, crematoriums and lifeless bodies in the Ganges have significantly tarnished his image and provoked a first “Electoral setback in the March-April elections”, recalls Gilles Boquérat, associate researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS). Even more worrying for the government, according to Jean-Joseph Boillot: “We have seen people, relatively neutral until then, tilt in criticism of the regime. “ A sign that anger is still roaring under the digital gag.

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