Social media platform Twitter on Monday told the Karnataka High Court that 50% to 60% of the tweets that the Union government wants it to block are innocuous in nature, PTI reported.
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, representing Twitter, made the statement before Justice Krishna S Dixit of the Karnataka High Court. The microblogging site has filed a petition challenging the legality of a series of blocking orders, saying they “demonstrate excessive use of powers”.
Datar told the High Court that Twitter routinely removes posts that it considers unacceptable. He, however, said that several tweets do not warrant interference under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, according to Live Law.
The section allows the government to block public access to content in the interest of national security.
Twitter submitted to the court that it has also been asked by the government to block accounts of users, instead of individual tweets. Datar said that such an action requires statutory safeguards, and referred to a separate case in the Delhi High Court, where the Centre has said that accounts should be blocked only as a last resort.
Datar also argued that the content of several tweets which the government asked Twitter to take down were similar to what appeared in the print and electronic media. He said that if the Centre found a tweet objectionable, it should first issue a notice to the account holder asking why the post should not be taken down.
Blocking user accounts would constitute a violation of freedom of speech, Datar argued. “At the heart of Article 19 [freedom of speech] is the right to criticise...because we are a democracy,” he said, according to Live Law.
The case will next be heard on October 17.
On September 1, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had filed an affidavit in the case to argue that its actions were within the ambit of law. Describing Twitter as a “habitual non-compliant” platform, the government contended that the micro-blogging site cannot decide what content will threaten national security or public order.
“It is not for the intermediary platform to define what free speech is and what is not,” the ministry had said.
In February 2021, the government asked Twitter to remove hundreds of accounts that criticised the Centre over its handling of the large-scale farmer protests which started in November 2020. The social media platform initially refused, but eventually relented after its local employees were threatened with prison time.
In April last year, the Centre had asked Twitter to pull down accounts that criticised the government’s handling of Covid-19 during the second wave when lakhs of people died.
The Centre has also repeatedly criticised Twitter for not fully complying with the new Information Technology rules that came into force in May last year.