Hours after social media platform Twitter posted about “potential threat to freedom of expression” in India, the government refuted Twitter’s charges in a press release.
Twitter’s statement about “freedom of expression” came as the platform stated that it will attempt to comply with the controversial new IT rules to keep its service available. In the aftermath of recent raids conducted by Delhi Police at its offices in Delhi and Gurgaon, Twitter has raised concerns over the safety of its employees working in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the users it serves. Notably, Twitter is in a tussle with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Indian government over the “congress toolkit” row.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity), tweeted its own statement in response to Twitter’s post stating that it “strongly controverted the claims made by Twitter”.
The ministry in its response, said that Twitter’s statement was an attempt to “defame” India and pointed out that protecting free speech was not a prerogative for the private, for-profit foreign entity.
“Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy,” the press release noted. Accusing Twitter of refusal to comply with regulations, it also asked why, “if Twitter is so committed” it did not set up a mechanism in India through which it can address the same purported concerns that the government has sought to address through the IT Rules.”
The government also said that the IT Rules were finalised following feedback from individuals, civil society, and industry bodies in addition to parliamentary debates. The new rules were notified in February this year with a three month implementation deadline. One of the key requirements is a three-tier oversight process for digital media and online curated content i.e. OTT platforms. It also tightened the noose around social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, which would be required to take down objectionable content/posts within 36 hours of receiving a complaint from competent authorities.
“Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land. Law making policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what India’s legal policy framework should be,” said the Meity release.
The government stated that it wished to emphatically assure the representatives of social media companies are and will always remain safe in India and there is no threat to their personal safety and security.
The Twitter Vs Central Govt Spat
The spat between Twitter and the central government accelerated after Twitter India flagged a tweet by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as ‘manipulated media’ on May 21. In that tweet, Patra had alleged Indian National Congress was indulging in a PR exercise by working according to a ‘toolkit’ to amplify the support given to Covid patients in the country. India’s ministry of electronics and IT had reportedly asked Twitter to remove the “manipulated media” tag attached to Patra’s post.
A few days after the Indian government’s reported request, Twitter India’s offices in Delhi’s Lado Sarai and Gurugram were raided by a special team of Delhi Police on May 24 evening. Notably, the Delhi Police comes under the jurisdiction of the central government of India, which is led by the BJP. The microblogging platform has also raised redflags over “the use of intimidation tactics by the police”.
Twitter in its recent statement said that it is deeply committed to the people of India and its service has proven vital for public conversation as well as a source of support for people during the pandemic.
The platform said it is willing to comply with India’s latest IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules of 2021, which will give the Indian government greater control over social media. The company has, however, sought a minimum of three month extension for it to implement the intermediary guidelines. Facebook too will be complying with the IT Rules and is working to implement operational processes and improve efficiencies. WhatsApp, on the other hand, has sued the Indian government over these policies, under which the company will have to share the details of the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it.