X blocks posts ahead of India election after takedown orders

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Social media platform X has blocked several posts in India containing political speech after authorities ordered their takedown ahead of a six-week general election that starts Friday.

X, owned by Tesla boss Elon Musk and formerly known as Twitter, said the posts would be withheld from Indian audiences until the election was over despite its disagreement with the order.

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“In compliance with the orders, we have withheld these posts for the remainder of the election period,” X said in a statement posted to the platform late Tuesday.

“However, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts and political speech in general.”

The posts by elected politicians, political parties and candidates made unverified claims about the private lives of their opponents, which India’s election commission said violated its code of conduct.

The platform’s announcement of its compliance with the order came the same day X’s Brazilian office said it would abide by a court direction to block disinformation-spreading users in that country.

Musk had earlier threated to disregard the Brazilian court’s order.

The billionaire is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India this month to discuss major investment plans in the country.

India, the world’s biggest democracy, regularly ranks among the top five countries globally for number of requests made by a government to remove social media content.

Last year, an Indian court hit X with a $61,000 fine after the platform unsuccessfully challenged orders to remove tweets and accounts critical of Modi’s government.

Rights groups say freedom of expression is under threat in India, which has fallen 21 spots to 161 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index since Modi took office in 2014.

Indian authorities have regularly imposed blanket internet shutdowns during periods of unrest.

That includes a months-long outage in the northeastern state of Manipur last year in the wake of ethnic violence.

The government says internet cuts curb disinformation by stemming rumours from spreading on social media or mobile messaging applications.

A total of 968 million people are eligible to cast a ballot in the election, with the final round of voting on June 1 and counting three days later.

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