With trending hashtags like #banTwitter and #Twitterban covering the nation, the Indian government publicly feuds with the American social networking company.
The battle dates back to February of this year when the government announced the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code.
The new set of rules came into force on May 26. Under these guidelines, the government can regulate digital content on social media and internet news outlets. The rules also required a compliance officer, a nodal contact officer and a resident grievance officer.
Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp were given three months to comply with the rules. Twitter has now lost its intermediary status due to its breach of the deadline of the IT rules. The microblogging site has reiterated a statement that it would strive to comply with India’s laws.
Twitter angers Indian users.
Aside from its delay in complying with the laws, Twitter sparked another controversy when their official website showed India’s map without Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. The site removed the map later on, but the damage was done.
Hashtag #Twitterban went viral nationwide as angry Indian users expressed their displeasure on the platform.
This added fire to the already heated face-off between the government and the social network.
The Political stance
Tension continues to rise between the Indian Government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Twitter ever since the incident of violence at the farmers’ protests on January 26.
The government issued a statement that ordered Twitter to remove and block tweets and accounts linked to the events. The order stated: any “motivated campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds” would face legal actions.
Twitter remains in hot water for labelling BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet as “manipulated media”. On May 18, Mr Patra tweeted screenshots of a “Congress toolkit” which Twitter’s fact-checking website suggested had been tampered with.
Congress issued an FIR against BJP members who shared the documents, and the government asked Twitter to remove the tags as it would compromise the investigation.
On May 26, Delhi Police visited the offices of Twitter India in Delhi and Gurugram to deliver notice regarding the “toolkit case”.
Twitter withdrew Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu’s verified badge on his Twitter handle along with several officials earlier this year. Heated complaints ensued, and Twitter later issued clarifications that it removed the badge due to the account’s inactivity, and the verification was restored.
Twitter is not new to backlash when it comes to stirring political controversies. Nigeria, Russia and the US have shown anger due to the social network’s non-compliance regarding political content on the platform.
In India’s new IT rules, Dharmendra Chatur, Twitter’s recently appointed interim resident grievance officer, has resigned from office.
However, the company expresses concern over the freedom of speech and expression in the largest democratic country. Twitter has enforced suspension against 500 accounts that violate its rules for “promoting hate speech and inciting violence”, as ordered by India.
Despite this, the firm has stated that they will take no action against “accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians” (Update on Twitter Safety, February 10).
Twitter states that while it strives to comply with India’s guidelines, it sternly advocates free speech and the right to dissent.
The battle between the Indian Government and Twitter
While the rage against Twitter regarding the Indian map is fair, the government’s history of dealing with other social media platforms raises the question: Is it trying to control the narrative on social media?
Similarly to Twitter, another legal battle with India took place in May. WhatsApp sued the Indian government over ‘mass surveillance’ regulations.
The company said that the “traceability” law of the citizens’ messages violated the privacy protection of its users.
India has also banned over 200 Chinese apps, including TikTok, just last year. None of the firms has taken legal measures.
The recent laws and legal issues with tech firms have put forward the case of biased media.
Platforms like Twitter may pose a threat to political power as it offers space for unfiltered opinions. It does not hold back on suspending accounts like Donald Trump’s if it deems its content as a violation of its rules.
However, India’s slew of laws to control speech on the media outlet has made it harder to regulate biased and unbiased media.
If all differing opinions against political parties are to be banned and our messages liable to tracing, are we truly free to express ourselves?