The saga began in February over ongoing farmers’ protests around the Indian capital Delhi, supported by the likes of Rihanna and Greta Thunberg, which the government sought to muzzle, and was unhappy at the tardiness of the platform’s execution. The same month, the government introduced the “Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules 2021” that it expected social media platforms and streamers to adhere to.
Matters escalated May 24, when Delhi police raided Twitter’s offices after the platform tagged a ruling party politician’s tweet as “manipulated media.”
Meanwhile, the new rules governing social media came into effect Wednesday, leading Facebook-owned WhatsApp to sue the government over privacy issues, since the new regulations require platforms to release end user information to the authorities in cases of national security or law and order.
While Twitter did not file a suit, it released a statement on Thursday, saying that it will “strive to comply with applicable law in India,” but 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.” The statement also expressed concern over the safety of its employees.
“The government strongly controverts the claims made by Twitter today in its press release. India has a glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices dating back centuries. Protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of only a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter, but it is the commitment of the world’s largest democracy and its robust institutions,” was the Indian government response late on Thursday.
“Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy. Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India’s legal system,” the statement added. “Furthermore, Twitter refuses to comply with those very regulations in the Intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming a safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India.”
“Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land,” the government statement continued. “Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what should India’s legal policy framework should be.”
At a time when India is the epicenter of the pandemic, observers have noted that the Indian government is quite concerned with how it is perceived globally and the statement addresses this matter too.
“Promoting vaccine hesitancy has been rampantly done through the use of Twitter platform and yet Twitter has taken no action. Is this commitment to the people of India?, the statement asks. “Discriminatory behavior has been practiced against Indians and people of Indian origin because of malicious tagging of B.1.617 mutant as ‘Indian variant’ name despite strict WHO guidelines against it. Again, Twitter has taken no action against such fake narratives and Tweets while grandiosely claiming to serve the people of India.”
When contacted by Variety a Twitter spokesperson pointed towards its statement released earlier on Thursday, which also notes the platform’s efforts in amplifying efforts to fight COVID-19 in India, and said that they had nothing further to add at this time.