As the government and Twitter continued to wrangle over the company’s principles of free speech, Union Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday warned that strict action will be taken against social media platforms that are misused to spread fake news and fuel violence, the Hindustan Times reported.
“We respect social media a lot, it has empowered common people,” Prasad said in the Rajya Sabha. “However, if social media is misused to spread fake news, violence then action will be taken. Be it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or WhatsApp, action will be taken if these platforms are misused.”
Prasad said that all companies are welcome to do business in India. “You have crores of followers here and we respect that,” he added. “Make money, but you will have to abide by Indian laws and the Constitution.”
The Union minister’s remarks came a day after the Centre reprimanded Twitter for not complying with its orders to take down certain content.
Twitter was thrust into the centre of a controversy last month after the government ordered the social media platform to remove more than 1,100 accounts and posts, which the government claimed are spreading misinformation about farmer protests against the three new agricultural laws.
The dispute escalated on Wednesday, after Twitter refused to fully comply with the order, saying these these demands of the government were inconsistent with the Indian law. It refused to outright ban the handles, but imposed restrictions on some of them within India.
The government in turn expressed its “deep disappointment” over the manner in which the company had “unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay” complied with only a part of the government’s orders. It said the social media platform must respect local laws irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines.
Previously, the government had also sent Twitter a notice of non-compliance, threatening its executives with jail terms and fines after the company did not obey another government order to block accounts.
Prasad on Thursday said that the government was engaging in dialogue with Twitter over the matter. “Prakash Javadekar [Union minister of information and broadcasting] and I are revisiting the social media guidelines,” Prasad added. “When you become a platform, you make your own law and India’s laws will have no place in it? That is not how it works.”
The Union minister compared the actions taken by the social media platform during the Capitol Hill violence in the United States and the chaos at Red Fort in India during the farmers’ rally on January 26.
“Why is it that when police has to act in US Capitol Hill they stand in support, but when a similar action is taken at Red Fort, they oppose it?” Prasad asked. “Red Fort is the symbol of our pride. We won’t allow these double standards... You are trending hashtags supporting massacre, genocide?”
Prasad added that the government’s commitment to freedom of media “is complete and total”.
“This government is led by leaders who have fought for the freedom of individuals, freedom of media, independence of the judiciary,” he said. “This includes our prime minister, you, Rajnath Singh ji, Prakash Javadekar and also me. But we are equally concerned about the security and sovereignty of India.”
Asked about social media being used to interfere with the election process, the minister said, “We respect the election process of India. If social media platforms are misused to tamper with the election process, our election commission and the government will take stern action.”
The Union minister also called on social media platforms to regulate content. “I would urge social media platforms to measure this unbridled exposure on your internal guidelines and take actions,” he said. “You are showing revenge sex videos, porn videos in an unbridled manner.”