Twitter on collision course with Indian govt

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Twitter, which recently weathered a political storm in the US, is facing a bigger challenge in India.

The social media platform and the Indian government seem to be taking on each other over some contentious tweets surrounding the ongoing farmers agitation in the country.

Twitter was recently asked to remove around 1,400 handles from its platform. The government claims that the accounts are allegedly spreading misinformation around farmers' protests. The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has sent three notices with the demand to block the contentious accounts, under Section 69A of the IT Act.

But despite continuous pressure from the administration Twitter, at least as of now, seems to be sticking to its guns.

Many of the offending accounts are also said to be automated bots that are used for sharing and amplifying misinformation and provocative contents on farmers' protests.  

A Twitter spokesperson was quoted as saying in Hindustan Times: "If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in the location only. In all cases, we notify the account holder directly so they’re aware we’ve received a legal order pertaining to the account. Our goal is to respect local law while protecting our foundational principles of free expression."

Twitter, as a matter of fact, withheld content for a few handles reported by the government a week back. But it quickly restored status quo much to the chagrin of the government officials.

While Twitter is holding its ground, other platforms like Facebook and Google’s YouTube have complied with similar requests from MeitY.

The Indian government is in no mood to relent. It is of the firm opinion that some of the tweets and trending hashtags surrounding the farm posts have been orchestrated by Khalistani and Pakistani groups. This, the government claims, is a major security issue for the country.

The government also took a serious note of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey “liking” a Tweet asking for an emoji for the hashtag #FarmersProtests. Dorsey liked the Tweet which said: “Now is as a good time as ever for @Twitter and @Jack to add a Twitter emoji to the massive #FarmersProtests in India - as they did for historic international protests like #BlackLivesMatter and #EndSars”.

The Indian government has already reminded the social media platform that there could be legal consequences for not following its directives.

The government can file a case under Section 69A (3) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Section 69A also empowers the government to suspend a platform in national interest and for public order. 

It may be recalled that hundreds of Chinese apps have been blocked under this section last year for violating Indian security concerns.

Legal experts say Twitter has to comply with the applicable laws of India “if their services are being made available on computer systems and networks in India and further if the contravention is being carried out on computer systems and networks physically located in India”.

For its part, Twitter is said to be asking for a formal meeting with IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Twitter has said that the "safety of our employees is a top priority".

Twitter cannot afford to anatgonise Indian government as India is its third-largest market with 18.9 million users as of last October.

Balakumar K
Senior Editor

Over three decades as a journalist covering current affairs, politics, sports and now technology. Former Editor of News Today, writer of humour columns across publications and a hardcore cricket and cinema enthusiast. He writes about technology trends and suggest movies and shows to watch on OTT platforms.