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IT Rules 2021 and Social Media: Centre, Twitter tussle explained

Twitter described the new social media rules as a "potential threat to freedom of expression”. The government has strongly condemned Twitter’s response stating that it is baseless, false and an attempt to defame India.

May 28, 2021 / 02:58 PM IST

Social media platforms and media publications, among others, were asked to comply with the new rules IT Rules constituted in February this year by May 25. Twitter was among the list of social media platforms that failed to finish the compliance process. It described the new social media rules as a "potential threat to freedom of expression”.  The government has strongly condemned Twitter’s response stating that it is baseless, false and an attempt to defame India.

How did it all begin? 

Twitter was among the list of platforms that were asked to comply with the new IT rules framed by the Indian government. On May 27, Twitter issued a statement stating that it would work on complying with the new rules in India but is concerned by the recent incidents regarding its employees in the country. Twitter deemed it as a “potential threat to freedom of expression for the people” it serves. “We, alongside much 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. We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation,” Twitter’s statement read. 

The social media platform further expressed concerns over certain aspects of the new IT rules such as criminal penalty for the chief compliance officer and proactive monitoring are concerning. Twitter has sought a three-month extension to comply with the new IT rules.

Centre’s response to Twitter’s statement over the new IT rules 

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Hours after Twitter issued its statement, the government slammed the Jack Dorsey-owned platform and asked it to “stop beating around the bush.” The government not only condemned the statement on safety and freedom of speech but also said that it is baseless, false and an attempt to defame India. 

“Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy. Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India’s legal system. Furthermore, Twitter refuses to comply with those very regulations in the Intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming a safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India,” the statement, issued by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), read.

The government further said that Twitter’s statement is hollow and completely self-serving. The micro-blogging website has over 1.5 crore users in the country. MeitY’s statement further stated that Twitter earns significant revenue from its Indian operations. However, it is most reluctant to appoint a grievance redressal officer and mechanism, chief compliance officer and nodal officer to whom its own users can complain when they are subjected to offensive Tweets. 

“The larger question is if Twitter is so committed then why it did not set up such a mechanism in India on its own? Twitter representatives in India routinely claim that they have no authority and that they and the people of India need to escalate everything to the Twitter Headquarter in the USA. The purported commitment of Twitter, to its Indian user base, thus not only sounds hollow but completely self-serving,” the statement further read.

It further questioned Twitter’s commitment to India by highlighting recent incidents where the platform took days to fix the error when it showed the geo-location of certain locations in Ladakh as part of China at a time when both countries were engaged in a peaceful resolution of border-related issues through bilateral dialogue. 

“Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land. Law making and policy formulations is the 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 should be,” the MeitY said while condemning Twitter’s statement.

Twitter is not the only social media platform that has shown concerns over the new IT rules. Facebook-owned messaging app, WhatsApp, decided to take the Indian government to the court over the new IT rules. The messaging app, which has over 500 million active users in the country, claimed that one of the new IT rules is a threat to the privacy of its users. 

The government, in response, said that it recognises the right to privacy and is committed to ensuring the same for its citizens. It further said that the guidelines shall be passed only for the purposes of prevention, investigation, punishment. As per the government, the rules have been framed after consultation with various stakeholders and social media intermediaries, including but not limited to WhatsApp.
Pranav Hegde
first published: May 28, 2021 02:56 pm

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