With a growing global presence, social media platforms are under immense pressure to comply with local laws. Failure to do so could attract liabilities from lawsuits, fines and even imprisonment of companies or individuals associated with the platform in the respective country. The recent flip-flop about granting intermediary status to Twitter by the Indian government is an indication of the fact that there might be a high scope of responsibilities for such online platforms.
In February 2021, the Government of India decided to enforce new Information Technology rules on the internet at large. They had proposed a set of standards for social networking platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter with a compliance window of three months. These new rules required companies to surveil all electronic data and online interactions of billions of users to safeguard cyberspace. The intention was to restrict the spread of fake news, obscene sources, defamatory content and hate speech.
This decision also required Twitter to block accounts of many Indian political heavyweights who were likely to be instrumental in questioning the government on policies & demonetization, etc. And there go the tweets away!
In May 2021, WhatsApp filed a case in the Delhi High Court against the government’s new rules on I.T security. They believed that the regulations violate customer privacy and coerce traceability (removal of end-to-end encryption).
Later, when the government sought the status of compliance, the tech giants WhatsApp, Facebook and Google ended up agreeing to the rules. However, the microblogging platform Twitter failed to remove objectionable content posted in violation of India’s stringent laws governing Internet use. It also failed to provide clarification on the authorisation of the chief compliance officer, resident grievance officer and nodal contact person. The microblogging site then solicited a deferral of the compliance window to discuss the issue of net neutrality hindering the freedom of speech of its users.
Twitter instead gave them access to a very small amount of data, claiming that it would be enough for the Government to monitor what they desired. The Indian government’s demand for Twitter to block posts critical of its crackdown on protesters has emboldened the social network’s critics and sparked the first open feud with a Web company over censorship in India.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted an official statement regarding the request by the Indian government to block thousands of Twitter accounts. He mentioned that Twitter believes in transparency and hopes for an open conversation with the Indian government, over their new Information Technology Rules.
After Twitter refused to comply with this directive, the government brought out an amendment to the Information Technology (IT) Rules in February, making it mandatory for all web companies to remove offensive content within 36 hours of being notified. This forced Twitter to create an ‘in-country team’ to keep an eye on user-generated content posted from India and address the grievance of ordinary social media users within 24 hours.
Although it makes sense for the Indian government to gain all information moderated before being exhumed into the public domain, it’s safe to say that it’s never going to be possible. This is where Twitter comes in as a medium through which the Indian citizens can talk and discuss freely, without any restrictions on character length. The entire Twitter community got involved to stage an online protest about an amendment to these laws that would allow unfettered surveillance and censorship.
The Indian government evaded most of the contentions by evoking Article 19 of the constitution.The article that renders freedom of speech has entitled it to be not absolute and open to legal stipulations in the view of any threat to national integrity and security.
In their opinion, the government’s jurisdiction over knowing the source of violent messages, rape threats, terrorism is also subjected to Right to Privacy Clause (not absolute as per the constitution). The authorities also issued a classic piece of overstatement of India being one of the prominent countries to endorse Twitter. In addition, the Ministry voiced discontent with Twitter’s refusal to adhere to the new IT rules, designed to curb the amplification of social media misuse.
Freedom of speech and expression is the fundamental right ascribed to each individual born Human. The government has the responsibility to ensure its citizens these rights to flourish and must work with concerned authorities to weed out contentions hindering their rights
- Government notifies Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021
- What is traceability and why does WhatsApp oppose it?
- Twitter says it will strive to comply with applicable law in India.
- Article 19 in The Constitution of India 1949
- ‘Rules protect rights of users were framed because social media giants failed to do so ‘:IT-and-Law-Minister Ravi-Shankar Prasad