Twitter recently held a meeting with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology secretary. From Twitter, the virtual interaction included Monique Meche, Vice President Global Public Policy, and Jim Baker, Deputy General Counsel, and Vice President Legal. This meeting was conducted regarding the alleged spread of misinformation via a few Twitter accounts and hashtags regarding ongoing farmers’ protests in India. According to MeitY, these “accounts are supported by Khalistan sympathizers and backed by Pakistan.”
Responding to the ongoing free speech debate between Twitter and the Indian government, MeitY said that “India has a robust mechanism for protecting freedom of speech and expression that is very elaborately explained as Fundamental Rights under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India. But freedom of expression is not absolute, and it is subject to reasonable restrictions as mentioned in Article 19 (2) of India’s Constitution. ”
The secretary further added that Twitter is welcome to do business in India. However, the company must also respect the Indian laws and democratic institutions. According to the MeitY press release, “Twitter is free to formulate its own rules, and guidelines like any other business entity do, but Indian laws which the Parliament of India enacts must be followed irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines.”
In addition to this, the secretary expressed “strong displeasure” on the way Twitter had responded after “an emergency order was issued to remove this hashtag and content related to that.” This is regarding a hashtag referring to “farmer genocide” that was trending on Twitter recently.
According to the press release, “Despite the attention of Twitter being drawn to such content by the Government through a lawful process, the platform allowed the content with this hashtag to continue, which was extremely unfortunate.”
According to Twitter, “We took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms. We took a range of enforcement actions — including permanent suspension in certain cases — against more than 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s Rules.” Twitter also announced that it had not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. Still, it has withheld a portion of the accounts within India only.
According to a statement by MeitY, ” Secretary expressed his deep disappointment to Twitter leadership about how Twitter has unwillingly, grudgingly, and with significant delay complied with the substantial parts of the order. He took this opportunity to remind Twitter that in India, its Constitution and laws are supreme. It is expected that responsible entities reaffirm and remain committed to compliance with the direction of the land. The government conveyed to the Twitter leadership that how Twitter officially allows fake, unverified, anonymous, and automated bot accounts to be operated on its platform raises doubts about its commitment to transparency and healthy conversation on this platform.”
For the unversed, as Twitter faces backlash in India, the Koo app, an Indian microblogging app, is gaining popularity in India. The government entity called Common Services Centres, working under MitY is also promoting the app on Twitter.