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Will Twitter fly away from India soon?

Three major legal actions have been initiated in various forms against Twitter India already

Karuna John 18 Jun 2021

Image Courtesy:economictimes.indiatimes.com

The blue Twitter bird’s feathers have been ruffled so much, it may begin shedding soon. In three days, three major legal actions have been initiated in various forms against Twitter India. 

On Friday, June 18, it is being reported that Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad Police have sent a legal notice to Twitter India’s Managing Director Manish Maheshwari asking him to report to the Loni Police Station within a week and record his statement within 7 days.  The notice has been sent under S. 160 CrPC reported LiveLaw. 

Ghaziabad Police say that Twitter India “failed to flag/delete the concerned posts related to Loni Assault case even when Police issued clarifications negating the alleged communal angle” it was reported.

On Wednesday, June 16 actor Swara Bhasker was accused of "inflammatory tweets", by a lawyer in Delhi. Bhaskar has been regularly trolled by right-wing online harassers, as well as been put in the spotlight by official handles. This complaint also includes the Managing Director of Twitter India and two others, reported NDTV. The alleged "inflammatory tweets",  also refer to the June 5 assault on an aged Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad. However, according to news reports, the Delhi Police are yet to file a First Information Report (FIR) based on the complaint which has reportedly been made by a lawyer. According to a news report, the complainant claims that Swara Bhasker, journalist Arfa Khanum and a person named Asif Khan "got inspired from the incident and started a propaganda to spread hate amongst the citizens" on Twitter. He adds that “Manish Maheshwari, the head of Twitter in India, did not take any action to remove these false tweets knowing the fact that the incident did not have any kind of communal angle".

Tweets on the social media side, once said to be the place where earning a ‘blue tick’ was a sign of arrival, are now on short fuse. Complaints about those tweets and against Twitter India, ironically gain the most publicity on Twitter itself. 

The latest notice against Twitter India comes close on the heels of  Ghaziabad Police registering an FIR naming news portal The Wire,  journalists Saba Naqvi, Rana Ayyub, and fact checker Mohammed Zubair on June 15. Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Shama Mohamed and Maskoor Usmani have also been named. They have been accused of posting tweets without "verifying facts" and "giving a communal colour" to the incident, reported NDTV. Sufi Abdul Samad, the old Muslim man at the centre of this growing controversy, had claimed in a video message that his beard was cut off and he was forced to chant "Vande Mataram" and "Jai Shri Ram" by goons who also assaulted him. Ghaziabad police who subsequently arrested the main accused and his accomplices, have ruled out any "communal angle". However Samad, whose video statement is at the centre of an FIR by Uttar Pradesh police, is standing by his claims, reported The Telegraph. “Those who had attacked me had forced me to chant Jai Shri Ram. They were beating me and had put a pistol on my head,” he told the media after he reached his ancestral home in Meera Mohalla of Anupshahar in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr, stated TT.

In the case filed by Uttar Pradesh Police, Twitter has been accused of not removing "misleading" content linked to the incident. The charges the social media giant faces include "intent to a riot, promoting enmity and criminal conspiracy". According to the new IT rules, 2021, Twitter is also supposed to appoint a grievance redressal officer who can look into complaints and remove abusive content within 24 hours.

Twitter is the first United States-based social media platform to lose legal protection in India. This, unless a legal truce is reached, can spell the end of the social media’s growth in India, if not its “banning” as demanded by some. Twitter India has been in a contentious relationship with the Government, even though it usually complies with government orders to remove tweets seen as “objectionable or fake news by the authorities. Twitter has also often withheld accounts, sending its own notices to users who are identified as being critical of government, politics, politicians. 

What does this mean for Twitter India?

Twitter is now going to be held responsible for all “tweets, data hosted by it”. Simply put, it is no longer seen as a mere platform or space where the user is responsible for what they post, instead, Twitter itself will be “editorially responsible” for the posts as the Hindustan Times put it. The FIRs registered in Ghaziabad under the Indian Penal Code. show how Twitter India is being held responsible for the content seen on it, especially if the posts are seen by the authorities as being inflammatory in any way. According to a report in the Telegraph citing cyber law analysts, Twitter has lost “the protection under Section 79 the IT Act because of “non-compliance” with the new IT rules.

Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the “@narendramodi Govt welcomes criticism. Those who are on Twitter or any other social media can criticize Govt, can criticize leaders, ask us questions.But they also need to protect users against the misuse and abuse on the platform and redress their complaints.”  He posted his latest comment and clip of an interview to India Today on… Twitter. 

Twitter selectively address grievances?

Ravi Shankar Prasad has said “Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to set up processes as mandated by the law of the land”.  This is an interesting observation made by the Minister, Twitter indeed takes instant action when it wants, against whichever tweets or handles it wants.    

Here is an example: Citizens for Justice and Peace CJP filed a complaint with Twitter over sexually abusive content against Muslim women. The complaint listed unchecked accounts that promote material that is not only pornographic but also glorifies sexual violence against Muslim women. It states that social media platforms are mostly unsafe and toxic spaces for women, but in India, Muslim women in particular are subject to an “orchestrated right-wing campaign, abused for both their gender and their religion.” 

While some accounts get suspended if enough people report then. Others continue to thrive. The biggest expulsion from Twitter in recent times was actor Kangana Ranaut, who till then had been getting away with right wing propaganda, but reached the limit when she urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to show his “virat roop” or ‘massive form’ like he did in the "early 2000s", appearing to allude to the Gujarat pogrom where thousands of Muslims were butchered. Her comment was in reference to the violence in West Bengal following the declaration of Assembly election results. Her removal from the social media site was not contested by anyone who mattered.

However, Twitter has continued to allow inflammatory content from 2019 to thrive till now. This post was from Aaj Tak and used practices which were violative of the guidelines issued by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA). The Tweet is communally volatile and has a hate inducing title. The content is still on the site, two years after CJP submitted a written complaint. 

In just a matter of months, Twitter has come a long way since it told the government February 10, 2021 that it would not block accounts of journalists, activists and politicians because such an action would “violate fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.” In a blog post, Twitter said, “In keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.” Twitter had received several blocking orders from the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act that month. Earlier in February the Centre had issued a notice to Twitter India after it “unilaterally” unblocked over 250 handles mostly covering the kisan andolan. These were the accounts the Government had ordered Twitter to block.  

WIll another bird begin Kooing louder?

All puns aside, Koo a social media site similar to Twitter launched in March 2020 and won the GoI’s Atmanirbhar App Innovation Challenge. Co-founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidwatka. Koo’s parent company Bombinate Technologies had previously launched Vokal, an Indian counterpart of Quora. However, after it emerged that Koo has a Chinese investor named Shunwei Capital, it lay low. Even top ministers, and many right wing influences also joined Koo, and announced on Twitter that they did so. As analysed by SabrangIndia the push to move to Koo comes at a time when GoI and Twitter have been at virtual loggerheads over the suspension and reinstatement of 250 Twitter accounts that made posts about the ongoing nationwide Farmers’ Protest. 

What next then?

The future is certainly unpredictable for Twitter in India, one of its most active markets. Union information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has told the media that the government does not want to ban any social media platforms such as Twitter. He is quoted as saying, “If half of the government is on Twitter, including the Prime Minister and President, it shows how fair the government is, but social media intermediaries, a status that Twitter has lost, have to follow local rules.”  Prasad had earlier criticised Twitter in even stronger ways, “Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May” and added 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.” He said since February 25, 2021, Twitter was given three months… and “a goodwill gesture was also extended to Twitter to comply with the new IT Rules but they did not comply.” Perhaps the FIRs are a sign of those words being turned into legal action, not just against Twitter, but also users, many who may be merely reposting, or sharing information that exists in the public domain. 

Related:

CJP files complaint with Twitter over sexually abusive content against Muslim 
Whatsapp moves Delhi HC challenging GoI’s traceability clause
Facebook, Twitter could face legal action in India
Why did Twitter CEO give millions to RSS-affiliated Sewa International?
Why did Twitter censor a basic tweet on Nehru?

Will Twitter fly away from India soon?

Three major legal actions have been initiated in various forms against Twitter India already

Image Courtesy:economictimes.indiatimes.com

The blue Twitter bird’s feathers have been ruffled so much, it may begin shedding soon. In three days, three major legal actions have been initiated in various forms against Twitter India. 

On Friday, June 18, it is being reported that Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad Police have sent a legal notice to Twitter India’s Managing Director Manish Maheshwari asking him to report to the Loni Police Station within a week and record his statement within 7 days.  The notice has been sent under S. 160 CrPC reported LiveLaw. 

Ghaziabad Police say that Twitter India “failed to flag/delete the concerned posts related to Loni Assault case even when Police issued clarifications negating the alleged communal angle” it was reported.

On Wednesday, June 16 actor Swara Bhasker was accused of "inflammatory tweets", by a lawyer in Delhi. Bhaskar has been regularly trolled by right-wing online harassers, as well as been put in the spotlight by official handles. This complaint also includes the Managing Director of Twitter India and two others, reported NDTV. The alleged "inflammatory tweets",  also refer to the June 5 assault on an aged Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad. However, according to news reports, the Delhi Police are yet to file a First Information Report (FIR) based on the complaint which has reportedly been made by a lawyer. According to a news report, the complainant claims that Swara Bhasker, journalist Arfa Khanum and a person named Asif Khan "got inspired from the incident and started a propaganda to spread hate amongst the citizens" on Twitter. He adds that “Manish Maheshwari, the head of Twitter in India, did not take any action to remove these false tweets knowing the fact that the incident did not have any kind of communal angle".

Tweets on the social media side, once said to be the place where earning a ‘blue tick’ was a sign of arrival, are now on short fuse. Complaints about those tweets and against Twitter India, ironically gain the most publicity on Twitter itself. 

The latest notice against Twitter India comes close on the heels of  Ghaziabad Police registering an FIR naming news portal The Wire,  journalists Saba Naqvi, Rana Ayyub, and fact checker Mohammed Zubair on June 15. Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Shama Mohamed and Maskoor Usmani have also been named. They have been accused of posting tweets without "verifying facts" and "giving a communal colour" to the incident, reported NDTV. Sufi Abdul Samad, the old Muslim man at the centre of this growing controversy, had claimed in a video message that his beard was cut off and he was forced to chant "Vande Mataram" and "Jai Shri Ram" by goons who also assaulted him. Ghaziabad police who subsequently arrested the main accused and his accomplices, have ruled out any "communal angle". However Samad, whose video statement is at the centre of an FIR by Uttar Pradesh police, is standing by his claims, reported The Telegraph. “Those who had attacked me had forced me to chant Jai Shri Ram. They were beating me and had put a pistol on my head,” he told the media after he reached his ancestral home in Meera Mohalla of Anupshahar in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr, stated TT.

In the case filed by Uttar Pradesh Police, Twitter has been accused of not removing "misleading" content linked to the incident. The charges the social media giant faces include "intent to a riot, promoting enmity and criminal conspiracy". According to the new IT rules, 2021, Twitter is also supposed to appoint a grievance redressal officer who can look into complaints and remove abusive content within 24 hours.

Twitter is the first United States-based social media platform to lose legal protection in India. This, unless a legal truce is reached, can spell the end of the social media’s growth in India, if not its “banning” as demanded by some. Twitter India has been in a contentious relationship with the Government, even though it usually complies with government orders to remove tweets seen as “objectionable or fake news by the authorities. Twitter has also often withheld accounts, sending its own notices to users who are identified as being critical of government, politics, politicians. 

What does this mean for Twitter India?

Twitter is now going to be held responsible for all “tweets, data hosted by it”. Simply put, it is no longer seen as a mere platform or space where the user is responsible for what they post, instead, Twitter itself will be “editorially responsible” for the posts as the Hindustan Times put it. The FIRs registered in Ghaziabad under the Indian Penal Code. show how Twitter India is being held responsible for the content seen on it, especially if the posts are seen by the authorities as being inflammatory in any way. According to a report in the Telegraph citing cyber law analysts, Twitter has lost “the protection under Section 79 the IT Act because of “non-compliance” with the new IT rules.

Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the “@narendramodi Govt welcomes criticism. Those who are on Twitter or any other social media can criticize Govt, can criticize leaders, ask us questions.But they also need to protect users against the misuse and abuse on the platform and redress their complaints.”  He posted his latest comment and clip of an interview to India Today on… Twitter. 

Twitter selectively address grievances?

Ravi Shankar Prasad has said “Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to set up processes as mandated by the law of the land”.  This is an interesting observation made by the Minister, Twitter indeed takes instant action when it wants, against whichever tweets or handles it wants.    

Here is an example: Citizens for Justice and Peace CJP filed a complaint with Twitter over sexually abusive content against Muslim women. The complaint listed unchecked accounts that promote material that is not only pornographic but also glorifies sexual violence against Muslim women. It states that social media platforms are mostly unsafe and toxic spaces for women, but in India, Muslim women in particular are subject to an “orchestrated right-wing campaign, abused for both their gender and their religion.” 

While some accounts get suspended if enough people report then. Others continue to thrive. The biggest expulsion from Twitter in recent times was actor Kangana Ranaut, who till then had been getting away with right wing propaganda, but reached the limit when she urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to show his “virat roop” or ‘massive form’ like he did in the "early 2000s", appearing to allude to the Gujarat pogrom where thousands of Muslims were butchered. Her comment was in reference to the violence in West Bengal following the declaration of Assembly election results. Her removal from the social media site was not contested by anyone who mattered.

However, Twitter has continued to allow inflammatory content from 2019 to thrive till now. This post was from Aaj Tak and used practices which were violative of the guidelines issued by the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA). The Tweet is communally volatile and has a hate inducing title. The content is still on the site, two years after CJP submitted a written complaint. 

In just a matter of months, Twitter has come a long way since it told the government February 10, 2021 that it would not block accounts of journalists, activists and politicians because such an action would “violate fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.” In a blog post, Twitter said, “In keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.” Twitter had received several blocking orders from the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act that month. Earlier in February the Centre had issued a notice to Twitter India after it “unilaterally” unblocked over 250 handles mostly covering the kisan andolan. These were the accounts the Government had ordered Twitter to block.  

WIll another bird begin Kooing louder?

All puns aside, Koo a social media site similar to Twitter launched in March 2020 and won the GoI’s Atmanirbhar App Innovation Challenge. Co-founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidwatka. Koo’s parent company Bombinate Technologies had previously launched Vokal, an Indian counterpart of Quora. However, after it emerged that Koo has a Chinese investor named Shunwei Capital, it lay low. Even top ministers, and many right wing influences also joined Koo, and announced on Twitter that they did so. As analysed by SabrangIndia the push to move to Koo comes at a time when GoI and Twitter have been at virtual loggerheads over the suspension and reinstatement of 250 Twitter accounts that made posts about the ongoing nationwide Farmers’ Protest. 

What next then?

The future is certainly unpredictable for Twitter in India, one of its most active markets. Union information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has told the media that the government does not want to ban any social media platforms such as Twitter. He is quoted as saying, “If half of the government is on Twitter, including the Prime Minister and President, it shows how fair the government is, but social media intermediaries, a status that Twitter has lost, have to follow local rules.”  Prasad had earlier criticised Twitter in even stronger ways, “Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May” and added 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.” He said since February 25, 2021, Twitter was given three months… and “a goodwill gesture was also extended to Twitter to comply with the new IT Rules but they did not comply.” Perhaps the FIRs are a sign of those words being turned into legal action, not just against Twitter, but also users, many who may be merely reposting, or sharing information that exists in the public domain. 

Related:

CJP files complaint with Twitter over sexually abusive content against Muslim 
Whatsapp moves Delhi HC challenging GoI’s traceability clause
Facebook, Twitter could face legal action in India
Why did Twitter CEO give millions to RSS-affiliated Sewa International?
Why did Twitter censor a basic tweet on Nehru?

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