The government of India has come down heavily on Twitter reminding it to follow the country’s laws. The Modi government has also expressed displeasure over the delay in following orders to ban some Twitter accounts purportedly supporting the ongoing farmers’ agitation.
In an atmosphere of the growing discontent between Twitter and the government of India, a virtual dialogue took place between Monike Meshe, Twitter’s Vice President of Global Public Policy, and the Secretary, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. During the dialogue, the government asked Twitter not to adopt ‘double standards’ and not violate government orders, and respect democratic institutions.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing farmers’ protests in India, the government asked Twitter to delete or hide more than 1,100 accounts, which it says, have encouraged violence or spread misinformation. While Twitter has removed some of the accounts, it has refused to suspend accounts of journalists, activists, and some others saying they have been legitimately exercising their right to criticize the government.
An update on our work to protect the public conversation in recent weeks in India. https://t.co/DNKjCup2j6
— Twitter India (@TwitterIndia) February 10, 2021
The Narendra Modi-led government has accused Twitter of breaking the law of the land, while Twitter claims it’s the Indian government that’s breaking the law. The democracy advocates around the world are, meanwhile, urging Twitter to uphold its values and not relent to the Indian government’s pressure.
India has told the representatives of Twitter that the social media platform is welcome to do business in India but that it also has to respect India’s laws and democratic institutions.
According to a government statement on the issue, “Twitter is welcome to do business in India – Twitter, as a business entity working in India, must also respect the Indian laws and democratic institutions. Twitter is free to formulate its own rules and guidelines, like any other business entity does, but Indian laws which are enacted by the Parliament of India must be followed irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines.”
India’s minister of electronics and communications Ravi Shankar Prasad told Parliament in a statement, “When Capitol Hill in Washington was ransacked and police administration took action, some microblogging companies stood in support of them. But when the iconic Red Fort in Delhi was attacked, they behaved differently. Such double standards are unacceptable.”
The minister said that the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but it also mentions that reasonable restrictions apply in the exercise of that right. He warned other social media platforms operating in India – Facebook, Whatsapp, Linkedin – that “they are free to work in India but they need to abide by the Constitution of India and laws of India”.
We have immense respect for social media as it has empowered the citizens but today I want to clearly state that be it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or WhatsApp they are free to work in India but they need to abide by the Constitution of India and laws of India. pic.twitter.com/DTwLf0Xc6S
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) February 11, 2021
The Indian government wanted immediate action against Twitter accounts which trending a particular hashtag ‘#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide’, saying it promoted violence and was a ‘falsification of facts.’ However, according to the government, the social media platform took no immediate action, and the removal of accounts a day later made the exercise “meaningless”.
The government called the hashtag “incendiary” and “baseless,” adding that such actions are “neither journalistic freedom nor freedom of expression as envisaged under Article 19 of the Constitution of India”.
Meanwhile, Twitter’s supposed bias against some Indian users has led to the popularization of a new desi app, called Koo. The app has created a lot of buzz after it witnessed over 3 million downloads in just 24 hours amid growing outrage against the US-based Twitter. Koo is broadly similar to Twitter where users can share their thoughts and express opinions and is marketed as a platform for non-English users.
However, certain cybersecurity experts alleged the app was leaking user information, which the platform flatly denied. There were even allegations that the main investors in the app were Chinese. A Chinese company named Shunwei is said to have been an investor, but the company is now reportedly exiting the venture.
It’s unclear how long this face-off between the American social media platform and the world’s largest democracy will sustain and whether Twitter will be giving up its values to blend in the evolving political atmosphere in India. Or will the social media giant hold its ground against a democratically-elected government?
These are the questions to watch out for as India continues to crack down on dissent and free speech.