The Centre on Thursday said that social media platform Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land, reported ANI.
“Law making and policy formulations is sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what should India’s legal policy framework be,” the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement.
This came after 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.
A sweeping set of rules were issued on February 25 to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content. The new rules 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.
On Thursday, the ministry said that Twitter’s statement was an attempt to dictate its terms to India. It claimed that the company was seeking to undermine India’s legal system through its action and actions and deliberate defiance.
“The government assures that representatives of social media companies including Twitter are and will always remain safe in India and there is no threat to their personal safety and security,” the statement said. “The government condemns Twitter’s statement as baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their follies.”
The ministry said that Twitter has a large user base in the country, but has been reluctant to set up a grievance redressal committee to which users can complain about offensive tweets.
The statement said that the social media platform claims to be committed to India, but that this commitment could not be seen in recent times. The statement also cited examples it believed supported its argument.
The ministry said that Twitter chose to show certain areas of Ladakh as part of China and took it down after several reminders. It said that while the company took action during the Capitol Hill riots in the United States, it refused to comply with the Centre’s request to take down content related to Republic Day violence in Delhi. It said Twitter only took action after the damage was done.
The ministry also defended the new rules, saying that they would empower ordinary social media users “who become victims of defamation, morphed images, sexual abuse and the whole range of other abusive content in blatant violation of law” to seek redressal.
It said that the rules were finalised after holding consultation with the representatives of social media companies.
The ministry added that the government respected the right to freedom of expression. “The government equally respects the right to privacy,” it said. “However, the only instance freedom of scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people’s accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily without recourse.”
The government’s tussle with Twitter comes soon after the microblogging company had marked multiple tweets from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as “manipulated media”. The tweets were in connection with an alleged document by the Congress on the Centre’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic this year. Following this, the Delhi Police had searched Twitter’s offices in the Capital.
Responses from Twitter, other social media firms to the rules
Earlier in the day, a spokesperson of Twitter had said the company “strives to comply with applicable law” in India, but it will be strictly guided by the principles of transparency. The spokesperson added that the company plans to ask for changes in the guidelines to “elements that inhibit free, open conversation”.
The Centre had written to major social media platforms on Wednesday, asking them for the status of their compliance to its new digital rules “as soon as possible”.
Besides Twitter, WhatsApp has also been critical of the new rules. On Tuesday, WhatsApp moved the Delhi High Court challenging a provision of the rules, saying it was unconstitutional and against people’s fundamental right to privacy. The provision mandates the company to identify the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it.
Meanwhile, Facebook and Google have said they will ensure compliance with the rules. Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said at a virtual conference with reporters on Wednesday that free and open internet was “foundational”.