India Orders Social Media Companies To Block Posts Criticizing Its COVID Response
- The Indian government ordered Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to block about 100 posts on Sunday that criticized the country’s handling of recent COVID-19 surges.
- All three companies reportedly complied, though Twitter said the posts were only blocked in India and remain visible to the rest of the world.
- Government officials claimed the content was creating “panic,” but many have condemned the move as censorship, noting that numerous posts, including some from opposition leaders and journalists, simply expressed critical opinions of Prime Minister Modi’s response to the surge.
- On Monday, India reported more than 350,000 new infections and 2,800 deaths, breaking the world record of daily infection rates for the fifth day in a row.
Modi Takes on Social Media Criticism Amid COVID Surge
India’s government ordered Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to block about 100 social media posts Sunday that were critical of its handling of COVID-19 surges in the country.
The coronavirus situation in India has become increasingly dire in recent weeks. On Monday, the country reported more than 350,000 new infections and 2,800 deaths, breaking the world record of daily infection rates for the fifth day in a row.
India currently makes up for nearly half of all new cases in the entire world, and even then, experts warn that the numbers are almost certainly undercounted.
The surge has also put a massive strain on the country’s hospital system, with many running low on beds, oxygen, and supplies. Also on Sunday, the Biden administration partially lifted its ban on exporting raw materials for vaccines to send India therapeutics, as well as other materials like rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and protective gear.
While the spikes are partly due to the spread of a new variant, many people have also criticized the response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including some whose posts his government ordered the social media platforms remove.
According to reports, all three platforms are currently enforcing the legally binding order, though, Facebook has refused to comment on the situation. Twitter, for its part, confirmed it had removed some of the tweets, but said they are only blocked in India and will still be visible in other parts of the world.
In a statement to the media, Indian officials said the posts were creating “panic” by “using unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals, communally sensitive posts and misinformation about Covid-19 protocols.”
Numerous social media users, however, accused the government of censorship, noting that much of the content was critical of Modi, including some posts shared by opposition leaders.
According to Lumen Database, which tracks takedown requests, at least 52 tweets from prominent figures including politicians in opposition parties, journalists, and even filmmakers have been removed.
While some of those posts did have potentially misleading information, others just documented the scale of the surge or expressed anger at India’s leaders.
This decision will likely raise concerns about the relationship between social media companies and leaders in countries that compose major client bases. India is a key growth market for tech companies — Facebook has more users in India than anywhere else in the world, and the country is also Twitter’s fastest-growing market.
This latest action from the Modi government also comes at a time when experts say his party has been increasingly censoring dissent, which creates a sticky situation for social media companies that goes beyond questions of moral dilemmas and free speech.
“In India, the companies face a stark choice: follow laws and risk suppressing political debate, or ignore them and face harsh punishments, including prison time for local employees, in a potentially huge growth market,” The New York Times explained.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
U.S. Intel Suggests Pro-Ukraine Group Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline
There is no evidence that the culprits behind the attack were acting under the direction of the Ukrainian government.
Europe Braces for Shocking Revelations
A pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream pipelines last September, intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests.
The New York Times reported the news Tuesday, citing officials who said there was no evidence of involvement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, any of his top lieutenants, or any government officials.
The strength of the evidence, however, is not clear, and U.S. officials declined to inform The Times on the nature of the intelligence or how it was obtained. They reportedly added that the intelligence indicates neither who the group’s members are nor who funded and directed the operation.
The Times’ sources said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Russian or Ukrainian nationals and that they possibly received specialized government training in the past.
It’s also possible that the group behind the attack was a proxy with covert ties to Kyiv, the report added.
When three of four Nord Stream pipelines were found to be severely damaged last year, the revelation shook markets and sent European gas prices soaring. Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011, and Nord Stream 2, which had been laid down but wasn’t yet operational, supplied Germany and by extension the rest of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas.
Following the explosions, Poland and Ukraine blamed Russia, and Russia blamed Britain. Other observers speculated that Ukraine might be behind it too.
More Ongoing Investigations
Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a Substack article that the United States military carried out the attack and that President Biden authorized it himself. However, Hersh’s report cited only one anonymous source in support of its central claim, so it was largely dismissed as not credible.
Western governments expressed caution on Wednesday in response to The Times report.
“There are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Russia, by contrast, pounced on the opportunity to renew its demand for inclusion in a proposed international probe into the pipeline explosion.
The Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the Nord Stream explosions.
On Wednesday, multiple German media outlets reported that investigators have largely reconstructed how the attack happened, pinning the blame on six people who allegedly used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland.
German officials reportedly searched a vessel suspected of carrying the explosives in January, but the investigation is ongoing.
The country’s defense minister suggested the explosions may have been a “false flag” attack to smear Ukraine.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 41,000 as Survivors Pulled from Rubble
A pair of brothers spent around 200 hours trapped under debris, living off of protein powder and their own urine.
A Humanitarian Crisis Explodes
The number of confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 41,000.
Millions more people have been left stranded without adequate shelter, food, clean water, or medical supplies.
At night, the region has dropped to below-freezing temperatures.
Now health authorities are worried that the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which was damaged by the quakes, will lead to a disease outbreak.
“We haven’t been able to rinse off since the earthquake,” 21-year-old Mohammad Emin, whose home was destroyed, told Reuters.
He was helping out at a clinic serving displaced people in an open-air stadium, but with no showers and only six toilets, the resource shortage was poignant.
“They are offering tetanus shots to residents who request them, and distributing hygiene kits with shampoo, deodorant, pads and wipes,” added Akin Hacioglu, a doctor at the clinic.
The World Health Organization monitors the population for waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid, as well as seasonal influenza and COVID-19.
Rescuers Race Against the Clock
After more than a week of searching, hopes that more living victims will be found amid the collapsed buildings are fading, but rescuers continue to pull out the final few survivors.
Abdulbaki Yeninar, 21, and his brother Muhammed Enes Yeninar, 17, spent about 200 hours under rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras before they were extracted Tuesday. They told reporters they held on by eating protein powder, drinking their own urine, and swallowing gulps of air.
In the same city, teams dug a 16-foot tunnel through debris to rescue a woman, and to the south, a volunteer mining crew joined the efforts to save another.
With no homes to go back to, some survivors have joined the ranks of volunteers themselves.
In the past week, more than 35,000 Turkish search-and-rescue teams worked alongside thousands of international workers in the effort, according to Turkey’s emergency management agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the earthquakes the “disaster of the century” and said in a statement that at least 13,000 people were being treated in hospitals.
The death toll is expected to rise even further in the coming weeks.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Al Jazeera)
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Resigns
“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now,” she said to reporters
Sturgeon Steps Down
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday.
Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister and she is also the first woman to ever hold the position. She has been in politics since 1999, leading the charge for Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Sturgeon also guided the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sturgeon made sure to mention that her decision was not in response to the latest round of political pressure she is facing after her recent controversies regarding gender reform. Rather, her reasons are rooted in her own personal struggle with whether she can continue to do the job well.
“To be clear, I am not expecting violins here. But I am a human being as well as a politician,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday. “My point is this – giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done by anyone for so long.
“For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long,” Sturgeon continued. “A First Minister is never off-duty. Particularly in this day and age, there is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted like going for a coffee with friends or going for a walk on your own becomes very difficult.”
Sturgeon’s Political Future
Sturgeon’s approval ratings are reportedly the lowest they’ve been since she’s been in office. Regardless, many political figures in Scotland, as well as the U.K., have applauded her and her historic service as First Minister.
There are still several unknowns moving forward. There is still no confirmation on who will take over the position. However, Sturgeon did say that she will serve until someone else is elected.
The push for Scotland’s independence is hanging in limbo as well, and no one knows what it’ll look like without Sturgeon’s leadership. She did mention, however, that she does not intend to leave politics fully and will still fight for the cause as a lawmaker in Parliament.
Sturgeon said the support for Scottish independence needs to be solidified and grow.
“To achieve that we need to reach across the divide in Scottish politics,” she said. “And my judgment now is that this needs a new leader.”