Centre accuses Twitter of trying to dictate terms to it

By: |
May 28, 2021 6:15 AM

In a hard-hitting reply, the government said protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of “only a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter, but it is the commitment of the world’s largest democracy and its robust institutions”.

twitter“The purported commitment of Twitter, to its Indian user base, thus not only sounds hollow but completely self-serving,” it said.

The government on Thursday came down heavily on Twitter and accused it of undermining the country’s laws which aim at providing it immunity from criminal liability. In a statement, the ministry of electronics and IT (MeitY) accused Twitter of trying to dictate terms to the government.

The government response came after Twitter criticised the new IT rules, calling the Delhi Police’s visit to its offices earlier during the week a form of ‘intimidation’ and said it was concerned about the ‘potential threat to freedom of expression’.

Delhi Police personnel had earlier during the week visited Twitter’s offices in Delhi and Gurgaon. The visit came after the site had tagged some tweets related to an alleged Congress toolkit used to target the Centre over its Covid-19 handling as ‘manipulated media’, which the government later asked it to remove.

“The only instance of scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people’s accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily without recourse,” MeitY said.

In a hard-hitting reply, the government said protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of “only a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter, but it is the commitment of the world’s largest democracy and its robust institutions”.

The statement also highlighted the point that Twitter representatives in India routinely claim that they have no authority and that they and the people of India need to escalate everything to the Twitter headquarters in the US. “The purported commitment of Twitter, to its Indian user base, thus not only sounds hollow but completely self-serving,” it said.

Earlier during the day, in a statement which was critical of the new intermediary rules which came into force from May 26, Twitter said, “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. Twitter is deeply committed to the people of India.”

The microblogging site also raised concerns about the compliance officer being made criminally liable for content on the platform, the requirements for proactive monitoring and the blanket authority to seek information about its users. The platform said it represents dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles.

Twitter has requested MeitY to publish standard operating protocols on procedural aspects of compliance for public consultation and has sought a minimum three-month extension for implementing the rules. “We would also like to reaffirm that Twitter continues to accept grievances from users and law enforcement via our existing grievance redressal channel available here under the new rules,” it said.

This is not the first time when the government and Twitter have sparred over content. In February, MeitY had sent a string of letters to the social media platform asking it to remove hashtags/accounts/tweets related to farmers’ protest, which according to the government, were leading to misinformation, having the potential to create law and order problems.

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