Twitter on Thursday said it was concerned about the “potential threat” to freedom of expression as India’s new social media rules came into effect. The social media firm also flagged “intimidation tactics”, days after the Delhi Police Special Cell visited it’s office in connection with the “toolkit” controversy, NDTV reported.
A sweeping set of rules were issued on February 25 to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content. The new rules will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
Among other things, the “Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021” regulations mandated that social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Signal and Facebook will now have to give details about the origin of a tweet or a message on being asked by either a court or a government authority. The regulation also requires social media companies to set up a three-tier grievance redressal framework.
A spokesperson of Twitter said the company “strive to comply with applicable law” in India, but it will be strictly guided by the principals of transparency. “Twitter is deeply committed to the people of India,” the spokesperson added. “Our service has proven vital for the public conversation and a source of support for people during the pandemic...Just as we do around the world, we will continue to be strictly guided by a commitment to empowering every voice on the service, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy under the rule of law.”
The spokesperson added that the company plans to ask for changes in the guidelines to “elements that inhibit free, open conversation”. “We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach,” she said. “It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public.”
Without directly referring to the action by the Delhi Police to search offices of Twitter, the social media giant said, “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules”.
Facebook and Google have said they will ensure compliance to the rules. Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said at a virtual conference with reporters on Wednesday that free and open internet was “foundational”, PTI reported.
“It’s obviously early days and our local teams are very engaged,” Pichai added. “We always respect local laws in every country we operate in and we work constructively. We have clear transparency reports, when we comply with government requests, we highlight that in our transparency reports.”
The ‘toolkit’ row
A controversy started after Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra tweeted on May 18 with the allegation that the Congress had created a “toolkit” or campaign material to tarnish the reputation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the central government in connection with the management of the coronavirus crisis. Several BJP leaders, including the party’s National President JP Nadda, had amplified Patra’s tweet.
Fact-checking website AltNews found that the document was created on a fake Congress letterhead. The Congress has filed several complaints, claiming the documents had been forged.
Twitter marked some of the posts, including Patra’s, as “manipulated media”. Twitter has said it applies its “manipulated media” tag to posts “that include media (videos, audio, and images) that have been deceptively altered or fabricated”.