The result? The junta has ordered telecom providers to cut off access to the company’s properties. Many people left without these crucial channels for communication migrated to Twitter, yet on Friday reports surfaced of disruptions to that service as well.
Such civil liberties violations are perhaps to be expected from the perpetrators of what is unquestionably a military coup. India, however, claims the mantle of world’s largest democracy — but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration behaves much the same as a dictatorship. In India, protests related to agricultural reforms have prompted a draconian crackdown on expression. Twitter was ordered to block a slew of accounts, many belonging to respected investigative news outlets and prominent civilians, but restored them after its initial compliance. The government argued the posts risked imminent harm; Twitter argued they were newsworthy and constituted free speech.
Now company employees are threatened with seven years in jail, and some worry about a ban on the site. That’s possible. India has shut down the Internet in Kashmir during periods of unrest, and last summer it kicked out TikTok. But officials also rely on Twitter to spread their own propaganda, much as authorities use Facebook in Myanmar.
The future for these sites in these nations looks dubious. The services are vital lifelines for civilians, but those lifelines turn poisonous when regimes co-opt them to spread disinformation, or to erase good information and dissent. The platforms face the choice of doing what’s easy and cooperating, or doing what’s difficult and standing up for human rights. They deserve credit when they pick the latter. Those countries that say they are democracies, meanwhile, face a similar decision as they pass laws that bear on the Web: Stand up for the same set of values, or admit they’re not democracies after all.