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 situation accelerated after Twitter India flagged a tweet by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as ‘manipulated media’ on May 21. In that tweet, Patra had portrayed that an alleged toolkit prepared by the Indian National Congress to amplify the support given to Covid patients was merely a PR gimmick. India’s ministry of electronics and IT (Meity) had reportedly asked Twitter to remove the “manipulated media” tag attached to Patra’s post.
“Such content moderation by Twitter puts a question mark on its status as an intermediary and its credibility as a neutral and unbiased platform facilitating the exchange of views by users,” the Indian government reportedly added in its letter to Twitter.
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.
Twitter India Statement Here:
“Twitter is deeply committed to the people of India. Our service has proven vital for the public conversation and a source of support for people during the pandemic. To keep our service available, we will strive to comply with applicable law in India. But, just as we do around the world, we will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency, a commitment to empowering every voice on the service, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy under the rule of law.
Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve. We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules. We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interest of the public.”
The company will be 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. However, the company has to comply with these guidelines as the social media, who fail to comply with the rules, will lose their rights to use provisions under Section 79 of the Indian IT Act, 2011 which grants safe harbour protection to such platforms.
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.
WhatsApp notes that the new rules will force the company to break its encryption, potentially revealing the identities of people who have sent messages through the platform. This, in turn, would hamper the privacy of users.