On Thursday, this week microblogging platform Twitter accused the Indian government of their overreach that is dangerous and inconsistent with the existing democratic principles. The platform mentioned that they had been forced to withhold certain parts of legitimate free speech fearing the safety of their employees and threats coming for financial penalties.
Although the statement given by Twitter did not mention any names or elaborated its statement in any way, the sources identify it to be relating to requests by the Indian government to pull down tweets that were related to farmers protests, some of which the center thought had evoked a sense of anti-India sentiment amongst people. There were also requests to pull down tweets that were critical of the Indian government in terms of handling the situation of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The spokesperson of Twitter mentioned that content being reported in an original manner and order comes under legitimate and protected free speech, as of the international and Indian laws and they have communicated this fact to the government as well. However, the scope of the law gets limited due to the conditions under section 69A of the IT Act.
This act gives enough room for an intermediary to come and defend the content, as a result of which and in response to a non-compliance notice, the spokesperson mentioned that they had been compelled to keep the content blocked in India. He said that not doing so, otherwise, will pose a penal consequence along with many risks for their employees.
However, it becomes interesting to note that Twitter kept its principles of defending the freedom of speech and protected expression alive and did not take any actions on tweets from accounts that were verified, which included accounts of journalists, media entities, politicians, and activists.
The statement was given off after a day the social media platform Twitter was said to be non-compliant with the new intermediary social media norms, according to which the social media must appoint designated officers who could deal with grievance apart from having mechanisms to take down content where there are people who are maligned or there is some sort of a sexually-explicit matter.
Twitter has mentioned its concerns with regards to the employees in India and said that it is planning to advocate some changes in the core element of the new IT rules in India which prevent the country from free speech and expression. However, the social media platform has stated that it will strive to comply with the new revised IT laws in India it would need a minimum of the three-month extended window period for compliance.
In response to this, the Ministry of Electronics and IT stated that the government strongly opposes the claims made by the microblogging social media platform Twitter, he said that India has had a glorious tradition of freedom of speech and principles that are democratic for centuries.
The ministry also mentioned that protecting the right to freedom of free speech in India is not a responsibility of a private, profit-based, foreign entity like Twitter, it is rather a matter of commitment of India and its robust institutions. Along with this, the ministry also took the effort of clarifying the fact that the allegations put forth by Twitter for the use of “intimidation tactics” by the police are completely baseless. The ministry said Twitter is looking to undermine India’s legal system through its actions and deliberate defiance.
The ministry also said that Twitter is just a social media platform and it needs to stop beating around the bush and follow the laws. Twitter has no right in dictating what the legal policy framework for India should look like. It has been also noted that the representative of Twitter in India has no authority and that the people of India and need to comply with everything to the Twitter headquarters in the US, making it sound completely self-serving.
What is concerning for Twitter, according to Twitter, is that the concept of making an individual criminally liable for the content, the authority to get information about the platform users, and the requirement for active monitoring. This makes the social media platform conclude with the saying that this is nothing but a representation of dangerous reach which does not go with the open, democratic principles. The social media platform is also concerned with the safety of its employees in India who will have to face penal consequences if not complied with Section 69A.
On the other hand, the government has been saying that the new rules are meant to empower users who unknowingly become victims of sexual abuse, morphed image, defamation, etc. The government also reiterated the fact that these laws have been put forth and finalized after having various possible consultations with representatives of social media as well.
According to the Ministry, Twitter has quite a huge userbase in India and earns a significant amount of revenue from the country but is unwilling to appoint Indian chief compliance, grievance redressal officer and mechanism, and nodal officer to whom the users can complain about the issues they are facing in terms of being exposed offensive and demeaning tweets.
The government of India has said that Twitter in its communique has said that it seeks constructive dialogue, and a collaborative approach from the government of a democratic nation to protect the interests of the public, therefore it is time for Twitter to stop abusing itself of this and follow the laws of India and that they are assuring the representatives of social media platform companies are and will always be safe in India and that there is no threat when it comes to talking about the safety and security of them.