Twitter and YouTube took down a BBC documentary critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in a genocidal 2002 massacre in the Indian state of Gujarat, The Intercept reports. The censorship was in coordination with the government of India, as officials called for the social media platforms to take action against what they considered a “propaganda piece.”
Kanchan Gupta, senior adviser at the Indian government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, condemned the BBC documentary in a series of Twitter posts on Jan. 21, calling the film “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage, disguised as ‘documentary’.” He said that Twitter and YouTube links sharing the documentary had been “blocked under India’s sovereign laws and rules.”
Twitter users in India claimed that links they shared to the documentary, “India: The Modi Question,” were later removed and replaced with a legal notice at the time of Gupta’s statements, according to the report.
“The government has sent hundreds of requests to different social media platforms, especially YouTube and Twitter, to take down the posts that share snippets or links to the documentary,” Indian journalist Raqib Hameed Naik said to The Intercept. “And shamefully, the companies are complying with their demands and have taken down numerous videos and posts.”
The BBC doc take-down follows a troubling pattern of link banning on Twitter, which was acquired last year by Elon Musk, a self-entitled “free-speech absolutist.” In December, as users began to fly the coop following a series of controversial company decisions by Musk, the platform introduced a new policy banning the free promotion of rivals Mastodon, Facebook, Instagram, Truth Social, Tribel, and Post.
Twitter has also begun to reinstate extremist figures to Twitter, granting near-blanket amnesty to prominent neo-Nazi’s, white nationalists, and conspiracy theorists. Most recently, Musk reinstated the account of white nationalist Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.
Members of Parliament from the opposition All India Trinamool Congress party Mahua Moitra and Derek O’Brien pushed back against the censorship and posted links to the documentary online, which have since been taken down.
“Sorry, Haven’t been elected to represent world’s largest democracy to accept censorship,” Moitra tweeted with a link to the Internet Archive. “Here’s the link. Watch it while you can.” Although Moitra’s original tweet is still up, the page to the documentary now says the “item is no longer available.” She has also posted the audio version on Telegram.
O’Brien’s post was also taken down on Twitter. He has since shared two screenshots of what appears to be a notice from Twitter offering a vague explanation for the removal. In one screenshot, it reads, “In order to comply with Twitter’s obligations under India’s local laws, we have withheld this content in India; the content remains available elsewhere.”
Twitter has also blocked audiences in India from viewing actor John Cusack’s posts sharing the documentary, although the links work for American users. “I received two notices that I’m banned in India,” the Cusack told The Intercept, and said that he “got immediate blowback” after pushing out the links.
The two-part BBC documentary addresses the 2002 Gujarat riots between the state’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims, during which Modi was Chief Minister at the time. Violence erupted after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in the northern state of Gujarat was set on fire and killed 59 people. In retaliation, mobs attacked Muslim-owned homes and businesses. The riots left 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead, and 223 more people reported missing, according to a government report. Modi reportedly ordered police forces to stand down as religious attacks took hold of the state and hundreds died. A Special Investigation Team appointed by India’s Supreme Court exonerated Modi a decade later.