Sovereign vs Tech Giant - India Makes Its Case Against Twitter

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Thursday, June 10, 2021 07:50 PM / by Govt of India, Ministry of Electronics and IT /Header Image Credit:  India Today

 

The Government strongly controverts the claims made by Twitter today in its press release. India has a glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices dating back centuries. 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's statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world's largest democracy. Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India's legal system, Furthermore, Twitter refuses to comply with those very regulations in the intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming a sale harbour protection from any criminal liability in India.

 

The larger question is, if Twitter is so committed then why it did not set up such mechanism in India on its own? 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 Headquarter in USA. The purported commitment of Twitter, to its Indian user base, thus not only sounds hollow but completely self-serving.

 

Twitter has a large user base in India, it earns significant revenue from its Indian Operations but is also the most reluctant to appoint an India based grievance redressal officer and mechanism. chief compliance officer and nodal officer to whom its own users can complain, when they are subjected to offensive Tweets.

 

The Rules empower the ordinary users who become victims of defamation, morphed images, sexual abuse and the whole range of other abusive content in blatant violation of law, to seek redress.

 

These Rules were finalized after widest possible consultations including with representatives of social media platforms. Ministry of Electronics and (T put the draft Rules in public domain and invited public comments. The Ministry received large number of comments from individuals, civil society, industry associations and organizations. A significant number of counter comments to these comments were also received. There are also various judicial orders by various courts including the Supreme Court of India directing the Government to take appropriate steps. There are also several Parliamentary debates and recommendations to take appropriate measures.

 

Freedom of Speech and Expression is a Fundamental Right under the Indian Constitution. The Government of India respects the right of people to ask questions and also criticize on these social media platforms including on Twitter. The Government equally respects the right of privacy. However, the only instance of 'scutting 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.

 

Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land. Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what should India's legal policy framework should be.

 

Twitter has claimed that it is committed to the people of India. Ironically, this commitment of Twitter has been most invisible in recent times. It is pertinent to share some recent examples: 

  • Twitter chose to show the geo-location of certain locations in Union Territory of Ladakh as part of People's Republic of China at a time when India and China were engaged in peaceful resolution of border related issues through bilateral dialogue. Twitter took several days. that too only after repeated reminders, to rectify this blatant disrespect to India's sensitive and territorial integrity.
  • Twitter chose to take suo-moto action against those users who it considered as perpetrators of violence at the Capitol Hil in the USA. But, just a few days after
  • the unlawful incidents on Red Fort in Deira, Twitter refused to take prompt 'action on the lawful request made by the Government of India to block contents that sought to incite violence on the pretex of a lake genocide plan. Later, it chose to comply, that too partially, when the damage had been done.
  • Twitter's lack of responsibility has led to rampant proliferation of fake and 'harmful content against India and Indians. Promoting vaccine hesitancy has been rampantly done through the use of Twitter platform and yet Twitter has taken no action. Is this commitment to the people of India?
  • Discriminatory behavior has been practiced against Indians and people of Indian origin because of malicious tagging of B.1.617 mutant as 'indian variant name despite strict WHO guidelines against it.  Again, Twitter has taken no action against such fake narratives and Tweets while grandiosely claiming to serve the people of India.

 

Twitter Inc, a USA based private company, in its communique says that it seeks "constructive dialogue', "collaborative approach" from the government of a sovereign democratic republic to "safeguard interests of the public". It is time that Twitter disabuses itself of this grandiosity and comply with the laws of India.

 

The Government also wishes to emphatically assure that representatives of social media companies including Twitter are and will always remain safe in India and there is no threat to their personal safety and security.

 

Government condemns the unfortunate statement issued by Twitter as totally baseless, tales and an attempt to defame India to hide their own follies.

 

'The Delhi Police has also issued a detailed press release, pertaining to an ongoing investigation, which answer the completely baseless allegations raised by Twitter.

 

Following the above position put forward by the government of India on the issue of Twitter Inc, below letter dated June 5th, 2021 and a copy sighted is attached to this position paper to further buttress the argument of the Government of India over the regulation of Twitter within its territory.

 

 

Government of India

Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY)

Electronics Niketan, 6 CGO Complex, Lodhi Road,

New Delhi (India)-110003

 

No. 16(4)2020-CLeS                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Date: 5th June, 2021

 

Twitter Inc

USA

 

Sub: Compliance of the Information Technology (Intermediary guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 - reg.

 

Dear Mr. Jim Baker,

 

This is with reference to this Ministry's letters dated 26th May 2021 and 28th May 2021 regarding compliance with the subject Rules and your corresponding responses dated 28th May 2021 and 2nd June 2021. MeitY is dismayed to note that your responses to the Ministry's letters neither address the clarifications sought by this Ministry nor indicate full compliance with the Rules.

 

It is clear from your responses that till date Twitter has not informed about the details of the Chief Compliance Officer as required under the Rules. Further, Resident Grievance Officer and Nodal Contact Person nominated by you is not an employee of Twitter Inc. in India as prescribed in the Rules. The office address of Twitter Inc. as mentioned by you is that of a law firm in India, which is also not as per the Rules.

 

The provisions for significant social media intermediaries under the Rules have already come into force on 26th May 2021 and it has been more than a week but Twitter has

refused to comply with the provisions of these Rules. Needless to state, such non- compliance will lead to unintended consequences including Twitter losing exemption from liability as intermediary available under section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000. This has clearly been provided under rule 7 of the aforesaid Rules.

 

The refusal to comply demonstrates Twitter's lack of commitment and efforts towards providing a safe experience for the people of India on its platform. The world's largest democracy has been among the first countries in the world, outside the parent country of Twitter Inc., to enthusiastically adopt the Twitter platform. Despite being operational in India for more than a decade, it is beyond belief that Twitter Inc. has doggedly refused to create mechanisms that will enable the people of India to resolve their issues on the platform in a timely and transparent manner and through fair processes, by India based, clearly identified resources. Leave alone proactively creating such a mechanism, Twitter Inc. is in the inglorious bracket of refusing to do so even when mandated by law.

 

The people of India, who use the Twitter platform, deserve and demand a fair mechanism to address their grievances and resolve their disputes. Users who are abused on the platform or are harassed or are subject to defamation or sexual abuse or become victims or a whole range of other abusive content must get a redressal mechanism that the same people of India have created through a due process of law.

 

Though with effect from 26th May 2021, in view of Twitter Inc's non-compliance with the Rules as noted above, consequences follow. However, as gesture of goodwill, Twitter Inc. is hereby given one last notice to immediately comply with the Rules, failing which the exemption from liability available under section 79 of the IT Act, 2000 shall stand withdrawn and Twitter shall be liable for consequences as per the IT Act and other penal laws of India.


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