On Monday, a team of officers from the Special Cell, an elite branch of the police in charge of investigating terrorism and organized crime in New Delhi, descended on Twitter's offices in the city to “serve a notice” to the head of Twitter in India. Police also attempted to enter a Twitter office in Gurugram, a location that has been permanently closed, a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
The move came three days after Twitter put a “manipulated media” label on the tweets of half a dozen members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, in which they had accused the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, of scheming to damage Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his handling of the second wave of India’s coronavirus pandemic.
In an image the members circulated, they claimed that the Indian National Congress was giving special medical favors to journalists affected by the pandemic among other things. AltNews, an Indian fact-checking website, found that the image was forged. (Congress has also filed a police complaint against Sambit Patra, the BJP spokesperson who initially shared the image.) On Friday, India’s IT ministry sent a letter to the company asking it to remove the labels. Twitter did not.
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.
Multiple Delhi Police spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment. But sources within the law enforcement agency told BuzzFeed News that they went to Twitter’s office to serve a notice to Twitter as part of a “routine process,” after they received “ambiguous replies” from Twitter India’s managing director, Manish Maheshwari.
In videos of the police action seen by BuzzFeed News, officials walk up to the receptionist in the lobby of the New Delhi building containing Twitter’s Indian headquarters and ask security guards for the location of the office. It’s unclear if police entered the office.
For months, Twitter has locked horns with the Indian government. In February, the company refused to censor tweets belonging to journalists, activists, and politicians in the country despite being ordered by India’s government to do so, and despite threats from the IT ministry to jail Twitter officials for not towing the government’s line.
At the end of February, India’s government unveiled new regulations to assume greater power over social media companies. On Friday, it issued an order asking platforms to take down content that referred to an “Indian variant” of the coronavirus, according to Reuters.