The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to the Centre and Twitter on a petition seeking directions to the government to put in place a mechanism to check fake news and hate messages, seditious and incendiary content on the microblogging website and other social media platforms, PTI reported.
The plea, filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vinit Goenka, stated that Twitter was being used to “call upon separatists, creating panic in some sections of the society, challenging the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India”, according to Live Law. It sought a mechanism to screen “hateful advertisements and anti-India content” that is particularly shared on the social media platform.
Advocate Ashwini Kumar Dubey, appearing the BJP leader, submitted that the petition also sought directions to the Centre to devise a system to identify advertisements and paid content on Twitter and other social networking platforms that may have hateful, inciting, or seditious content.
It said that in the absence of a mechanism or a law to check online content, social media platforms have been used by some persons to “amplify and call out” for activities that are against the spirit of the Union of India.
The BJP leader’s plea further alleged that Twitter “knowingly promotes” messages which are against Indian laws. Therefore, the logic and algorithms used by the company should be vetted by the government or any other competent authority, for screening “anti-India tweets”, it said.
Additionally, the plea said that there are hundreds of fake Twitter handles and bogus Facebook accounts in the name of eminent people and high dignitaries, according to PTI. Political parties use fake social media accounts for self-promotion and image building and to tarnish the image of opponents and contesting candidates, especially during the elections, the plea added.
It submitted that presently, the total number of Twitter handles in India is around 35 million and total number of Facebook accounts is 350 million and experts say that around 10% Twitter handles and 10% Facebook accounts “are duplicate/bogus/fake”.
A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued notice on the petition and directed that the matter be tagged with similar pending petitions that seek social media regulation.
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The Twitter row
Twitter has found itself in the centre of a political firestorm in India after it refused to fully comply with the government order to remove over 1,100 accounts. The government claimed the said accounts were using provocative hashtags to spread misinformation about the farmer protests against the agriculture laws.
But Twitter said 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 social media platform also refused to remove accounts of news organisations, journalists, activists and politicians, citing its “principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression”.
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.
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. He accused Twitter of maintaining double standards.
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.