India has expressed strong displeasure on the way Twitter “unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay complied with the substantial parts” of its emergency order.

India pulls up Twitter on late compliance of emergency orders, says freedom of expression not absolute

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Updated: February 11, 2021 9:24 AM

Twitter had earlier said, it was trying to responsibly bear the torch for an open internet and free expression, while keeping its platform safe from those engaged in propaganda and peddling of fake news.

Twitter, IndiaThe government said that responsible entities, like Twitter, must not only reaffirm but remain committed to compliance to the law of land. (Photo credit: Reuters)

The government of India on Wednesday expressed strong displeasure on the way Twitter “unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay complied with the substantial parts” of its emergency order to remove the hashtag “farmer genocide” and all related content from its platform. Reminding Twitter that lawfully passed orders were binding on any business entity, Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ajay Sawhney told representatives of the California-headquartered company that freedom of expression was not absolute and that it was subject to reasonable restrictions.

Twitter had earlier in the day said, it was trying to responsibly bear the torch for an open internet and free expression, while keeping its platform safe from those engaged in propaganda and peddling of fake news.

Due to the emergency nature of the government of India’s blocking orders, Twitter had withheld several accounts including Kisan Ekta Morcha recently, though this was only temporary. Twitter had gone on to restore these accounts within hours, something it said was “in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law.”

Leading into today’s virtual meeting with Secretary, MeitY, Twitter had permanently suspended more than 500 accounts for violating its rules and withheld “a portion” of accounts flagged by the government of India for allegedly spreading misinformation on farmers’ protest.

Also Read Twitter sets record straight on suspended, withheld accounts over farmers’ protest, Govt calls it unusual: story in 10 points

Twitter said the accounts were withheld – which essentially means they remained accessible outside of India – because “we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”

It was extremely unfortunate that Twitter allowed the content to continue despite being asked otherwise through a lawful process when it should have been obeyed immediately, the government told Twitter. The government further said that responsible entities, like Twitter, must not only reaffirm but remain committed to compliance to the law of land.

“Spreading misinformation using an incendiary and baseless hashtag referring to ‘farmer genocide’ at a time when such irresponsible content can provoke and inflame the situation is neither journalistic freedom nor freedom of expression.”

As a possible remark to Twitter’s “setting the record straight” blog post, the government said that the way the platform allowed “fake, unverified, anonymous and automated bot accounts” raised doubts about “its commitment to transparency and healthy conversation on this platform.” A sharp contradiction to what Twitter said it was trying to stand for.

The government also brought in the Capitol Hill episode and compared it with the January 26 disturbance at Red Fort to stress upon its dissatisfaction over Twitter’s “differential treatment in the two incidents.”

In the light of the interaction, Twitter affirmed its commitment towards following Indian laws and rules while continuing commitment towards building its services in the country.

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