The public spat between Twitter India and the government intensified Wednesday after Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad said the microblogging platform had “deliberately chosen” not to comply with new intermediary guidelines despite being given “multiple opportunities”. His remarks came after Ministry officials suggested that Twitter India no longer enjoyed legal protection.
Referring to an incident in UP — Twitter and Twitter India have been named as accused in an FIR in Ghaziabad for their alleged failure to contain and stop a video and tweets with potential to create communal disharmony — Prasad criticised Twitter for what he called its “arbitrariness in fighting fake news” and “its inconsistency in fighting misinformation”.
In a statement, first shared on homegrown microblogging site Koo and an hour later on Twitter, the Minister warned that “if any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the laws of the land, such attempts are misplaced”.
Twitter did not respond to emails seeking its response on Prasad’s statement.
Sources in the Ministry had told The Indian Express Tuesday that Twitter had failed to appoint executives in the roles of resident grievance officer, nodal officer and chief compliance officer as per norms of the government.
The protection accorded to Twitter as a third party intermediary under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act would therefore lapse, officials said, adding that the micro-blogging platform would now be considered a “media publisher” and not an “intermediary” for all legal purposes.
Section 79 of the IT Act says that any intermediary shall not be held legally or otherwise liable for any third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted on its platform.
In his statement, Prasad said: “There are numerous queries arising as to whether Twitter is entitled to safe harbour provision. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May. Further, Twitter was given multiple opportunities to comply with the same, however it has deliberately chosen the path of noncompliance.”
“The culture of India varies like its large geography. In certain scenarios, with the amplification of social media, even a small spark can cause a fire, especially with the menace of fake news. This was one of the objectives of bringing the Intermediary Guidelines.”
“It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines,” he said.
“Further, what is perplexing is that Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to set up process as mandated by the law of the land. Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging manipulates media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes.”
“What happened in UP was illustrative of Twitter’s arbitrariness in fighting fake news. While Twitter has been over enthusiastic about its fact checking mechanism, its failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing & indicates its inconsistency in fighting misinformation,” he said.
“Indian companies be it pharma, IT or others that go to do business in USA or in other foreign countries, voluntarily follow the local laws. Then why are platforms like Twitter showing reluctance in following Indian laws designed to give voice to the victims of abuse and misuse?” Prasad said.
“The rule of law is the bedrock of Indian society. India’s commitment to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech was yet again reaffirmed at the G7 summit,” he said.
Guidelines issued in February required all significant social media intermediaries to designate Indian resident executives as resident grievance officer, nodal contact person and chief compliance officer by May 26.
And on May 26, the Ministry wrote to these intermediaries, asking them to furnish details of all appointments made as soon as possible. Over the next week, all major social media intermediaries complied.
Though Twitter also announced that it had appointed personnel to the posts of resident grievance officer and nodal contact person, Ministry officials had indicated that since these appointments were not according to norms laid down by the government, they would not be accepted.
In its statement Tuesday, Twitter reiterated that it had kept the Ministry “apprised of the progress at every step of the process” and had retained a chief compliance officer whose details it would share with the Ministry.