The government of India on this Saturday issued a notice to Twitter giving it one last chance to “immediately” comply with the new IT rules and warned that failure to adhere to the norms will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said that Twitter’s refusal to comply with the rules demonstrated the microblogging site’s ‘lack of commitment and efforts towards providing a safe experience for the people of India on its platform’. A new fold rising in the Twitter vs Indian government episode, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has sent one last warning to Twitter India for complying with the new IT rules.
These new rules were implemented from May 26, which required all the social media sites to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer to undeviatingly address user grievances and issues. But Twitter has failed to submit the details required by the government. In its letter, the MeitY states that Twitter is yet to provide information regarding the Chief Compliance Office in India. On top of that, the Resident Grievance Office and Nodal Contact Person nominated by Twitter is not an employee of Twitter Inc. in India. Furthermore, even the office address mentioned by Twitter belongs to a law firm, so this is a strictly intolerant right by the rules. “Despite being operational in India for more than a decade, it is beyond belief that Twitter Inc has doggedly refused to create a mechanism that will enable the people of India to resolve their issues on the platform in a timely and transparent manner and through fair processes, by India based, clearly identified resources,” the IT ministry of India said on Saturday.
At the end of the letter, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology maintains that though with effect from May 26, 2021, “consequences follow” given Twitter’s non-compliance with rules “however, as a gesture of goodwill, Twitter Inc is hereby given one last notice to immediately comply with the rules, failing which the exemption from liability available…shall stand withdrawn and Twitter shall be liable for consequences as per the IT Act and other penal laws of India.” But a specific date has not been given in the notice to adhere to the rules. Although the government of India has not defined what those consequences will be, it probably leads to suspending Twitter India’s operations altogether. Twitter has followed the same suit when it got suspended in Nigeria after deleting a post by President Muhammadu Buhari shown threatening to punish regional secessionists.
Lai Mohammed, the Information Minister of Nigeria told in a Reuters report that the government had acted because of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”. The ministry of Nigeria announced the suspension of Twitter on Twitter itself ironically, but they didn’t clear what form the suspension would take or provide any more details on the undermining activities. Twitter India has been in controversy quite recently for marking posts from government officials as well as involvement with censoring. The social media site also removed the blue tick verification badge from the Vice President’s personal account, but following outrage by people, it restored it immediately.
Although Twitter is facing difficulty complying with the new IT rules, Facebook has assured the Indian government that it has taken steps to comply with the rules. Reports say that Twitter requested the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for an additional three months extension to implement the rules set by the ministry. Twitter said that it will continue to accept grievances from users and law enforcement agencies through its current grievance redressal channel. Netizens fear that Twitter’s (and other social media platforms like Facebook’s) failure to adhere to the rules may lead to a ban in India, but so far this possibility has not come to pass. However, the scuffle between the government and Twitter has escalated because of Twitter’s recent advances, so Twitter’s future lies unclear in India.
Twitter has been in the spotlight for quite some time in India for its clashes and indifferences with the government of India. The Delhi Police recently visited Twitter India’s offices to subserve a notice over the Congress toolkit, following which the popular social media platform lost its immunity over its platform, meaning that it is now viable to criminal charges, much like many other micro-blogging sites. Adding to that, Twitter’s recent statement over the “potential threat to freedom of expression” and intimidation tactics used by the Delhi Police worsened its case with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology slamming Twitter with the “one last notice” and asking it to “stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land.”
“Lawmaking and policy formulations are the sole prerogatives of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what India’s legal policy framework should be,” the government of India said. It also assured the representatives of all social media companies, including Twitter, that they are and will always be potentially safe and secure in the country and will face no threats. The ministry stated that India has always had a glorious tradition of free speech as well as democratic practices dating back to centuries, and the protection of free speech in the country is paramount to the Indian government, and not a “private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter”. It further called Twitter’s appalling statement “unfortunate”, and totally baseless, attempting to slander India’s long earned fame “to hide their own follies”.
Two days following the deadline to comply with the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules ended, that is, on May 28, Twitter declared that it would “strive to comply with applicable law”, and that it was intending to ask for changes in the rules to “elements that inhibit free, open conversation.” The company also told the media that they were affected by the recent police raid over the “manipulated tag” on a tweet and the “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.” A day before Twitter told this, WhatsApp India dragged the case to the court against the government over the same IT rules, on the grounds that these rules imply the end of users’ privacy.
Twitter India told the media, “Twitter is deeply committed to the people of India. Our service has proven vital for public conversation and a source of support for people during the pandemic. To keep our service available, we will strive to comply with applicable law in India. But, just as we do around the world, we will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency, a commitment to empowering every voice on the service, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy under the rule of law. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach”.