Twitter has been in dire straits in India for quite some time, and its clashes with the central government are not making things easier. Not only did the Delhi Police recently ‘visit’ Twitter India’s offices to serve a notice over the Congress toolkit, but the popular micro-blogging site (much like every other social media platform) also lost its immunity over posts on its platform on May 25, leaving it vulnerable to criminal charges. Its recent statement over the “potential threat to freedom of expression” and intimidation tactics by the police received a strong answer from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, which slammed it and directed it to “stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land.”
“Lawmaking and policy formulations are the sole prerogatives 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,” the government said. It also added that it wants to assure that the representatives of social media companies (including Twitter) were and will continue to remain safe in India, and there is no threat to their personal safety and security.
It maintained that the country has had a glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices which dates back centuries, and the protection of free speech in the country was the duty of India and its institutions, and not a “private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter,” calling the company’s statement “unfortunate”, totally baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their own follies”.
Two days after the deadline to comply with the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, ended, Twitter announced that it would “strive to comply with applicable law”, and that it was planning to ask for changes to “elements that inhibit free, open conversation.” The company also said that they were concerned by the recent police raid over the “manipulated tag” on a tweet and the “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.”
This also comes a day after WhatsApp took the government to court over the same IT rules, alleging that it meant the end of users’ privacy.
“Twitter is deeply committed to the people of India. Our service has proven vital for 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. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach,” Twitter India said.
It was reported that Twitter requested MeitY for an additional three months extension to implement the rules. Twitter will continue to accept grievances from users and law enforcement agencies through its existing grievance redressal channel as per the new rules.
There have been fears that Twitter (and other social media platforms like Facebook) may be banned in India if they failed to comply with the regulations, and fortunately, this did not come to pass.
However, the tussle between the government and Twitter has intensified following recent events, and it is unclear what lies in Twitter’s future.