'Deliberate defiance': Ravi Shankar Prasad on Twitter losing legal safety
Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, today launched an attack on Twitter for failing to comply with the new IT rules yet. He said the social media giant was given "multiple opportunities" to do that, but it "deliberately chose the path of non-compliance." His statement came after Twitter reportedly lost indemnity in India due to non-compliance of the rules.
"It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines," Prasad tweeted this morning. The new IT rules had come into effect on May 26.
Prasad went on to allege that Twitter flags content as manipulated only selectively. "It chooses a policy of flagging manipulated media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes (sic)." Citing the example of Indian firms working abroad, he asked, "Why are platforms like Twitter showing reluctance in following Indian laws designed to give voice to the victims of abuse and misuse?"
Prasad also mentioned a recent incident in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, where an elderly Muslim man was allegedly assaulted. He claimed he was forced to chant Hindu deity Ram's name, however, the local police ruled out any "communal angle" in the alleged attack. Twitter and several journalists have since been booked by the police for connecting the incident to communal enmity in their posts.
"What happened in UP was illustrative of Twitter's arbitrariness in fighting fake news. While Twitter has been over enthusiastic about its fact checking mechanism, its failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing & indicates its inconsistency in fighting misinformation (sic)," he wrote.
However, if any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, such attempts are misplaced.— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) June 16, 2021
Prasad's statement, which he also posted on the Twitter-like Indian app Koo, came after reports said Twitter has lost indemnity in India. This implies that Twitter officials can now face police questioning and criminal action over content posted on the platform by its users. Yesterday, however, Twitter said it had appointed an interim Compliance Officer - thus complying with one of the new rules.
Earlier, Twitter had expressed concern about the new rules, calling them a "potential threat to freedom of expression." The Indian government had, in turn, criticized the social media firm. In fact, officers of the Delhi Police had last month visited Twitter offices in the city, soon after the company categorized BJP spokesman Sambit Patra's tweet as "manipulated media."
The new IT rules were announced on February 25. Accordingly, large social media companies - those with over 50 lakh users in India - are required to appoint key officers such as chief compliance officer, nodal contact officer, and grievance officer. Further, these officers are needed to be residents of India. Non-compliance of the rules can lead to companies losing their intermediary status.