Twitter would rather comply with the social media laws in India than risk its employees going to jail, its owner Elon Musk told the BBC on Wednesday.
Musk made the remarks in response to a question about a BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots being blocked on the instructions of the Indian government.
“I don’t know about that [the documentary],” Musk said. “The rules in India for what can appear on social media are quite strict, and we cannot go beyond the laws of a country.”
The British broadcaster had released the first part of the documentary, India: The Modi Question, on January 17. It alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the riots and that he had ordered senior police officers not to intervene.
More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the riots.
The second part of the documentary, which focussed on Modi’s record as prime minister, was released on January 24.
On January 20, the government had used emergency powers available under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, to issue directions to YouTube and Twitter to block clips of the documentary from being shared. The foreign ministry had described the documentary as “a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative”.
On Wednesday, Musk also denied the suggestion that Twitter’s compliance with local law could incentivise countries to pass more draconian laws.
“If we have a choice of either our people go to prison, or we comply with the laws, we’ll comply with the laws,” he said. “The same goes for the BBC.”
Musk’s stand on social media laws in India comes at a time when Twitter has challenged the legality of some of the blocking orders issued by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government.
In February 2021, the government had asked Twitter to remove hundreds of accounts that criticised the Centre over its handling of the large-scale farmer protests that started in November 2020. The social media platform initially refused but eventually relented after its local employees were threatened with prison.
In July, Twitter had moved the High Court saying that the blocking orders “demonstrate excessive use of powers”.
At the last hearing on February 8, the Centre had argued that Twitter is a foreign business entity and has no right to speak on behalf of those whose accounts have been blocked on government orders.