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Twitter obliges as India asks for the removal of critical COVID posts

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By Hebe Campbell
Flames rise from cremation pyres of victims of a fire that broke out in Vijay Vallabh COVID-19 hospital, at Virar, near Mumbai, India, Friday, April 23, 2021.
Flames rise from cremation pyres of victims of a fire that broke out in Vijay Vallabh COVID-19 hospital, at Virar, near Mumbai, India, Friday, April 23, 2021.   -   Copyright  Rajanish Kakade/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Twitter says it has removed dozens of tweets criticising India's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic at the request of the government.

On Monday, the country reported 2,812 more deaths, with roughly 117 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour.

Experts say even those figures are probably an undercount. The new infections brought India’s total to more than 17.3 million, behind only the United States.

Hospitals are at maximum capacity, turning people away and leaving many critical patients without access to healthcare. Many COVID-19 patients have resorted to hospital car parks, where backseats are being used as over-spill beds hooked up to ventilators.

The situation has left many citizens in India resorting to Twitter, pleading for access to intensive care beds or oxygen, using hashtags such as #SOSDelhi.

But the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to quieten critical voices online.

The removed tweets were published by journalists, opposing politicians, lawmakers as well as other prominent figures.

Many of the removed tweets were criticising the government's handling of the second wave and contained images of overwhelmed crematoriums amid the high daily death toll.

The posts were removed under the Technology Act 2000. However, it isn't clear which section of the law had been invoked in this case.

Twitter said in a statement to The Cube, Euronews' social media news desk, that it is committed to promoting healthy conversations on its service.

It also added that it tackles misinformation based on the highest potential for harm.

"When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service," a Twitter spokesperson said.

"If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only."

A tweet that was removed from Twitter in India was published by MP Revanth Reddy. He attached an image from the Press Trust of India of a crematorium. It is still accessible in Europe.

"India recording over 2 lakh cases everyday, shortage of vaccines, shortage of medicines, increasing number of system is collapsing....! #ModiMadeDisaster" he said.

Another tweet from an opposition party leader in the state of West Bengal, Moloy Ghatak, wrote: "India will never forgive PM @narendramodi for underplaying the corona situation in the country and letting so many people die due to mismanagement.

"At a time when India is going through a health crisis, PM chose to export millions of vaccine to other nations #ModiHataoDeshBachao."

Meanwhile, citizens in India are using Twitter to plead for access to ICU beds or medical equipment for friends or family with COVID-19, capturing the desperation currently gripping the country.

"Dear friends, yesterday I lost my father due to covid. Right now my mom's oxygen level is 80 - 85. She is in home isolation after had covid positive ten days back. Please help me in getting an oxygen cylinder in South West Delhi. I don't want to lose my mom now. #SOSDelhi." one user tweeted.

"Need an oxygen cylinder for my sister who is admitted to the ICU, in West Dekhi Janakpuri West. Please help with verified leads. urgent. #CovidResourses #CovidHelp #SOSDelhi." Another user tweeted.

"#SOSDelhi #Verified Vimhans Nayati Hospital Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi is left with just 1 hour of Oxygen." Another user tweeted.