It all began with Rihanna’s February tweet. This sparked widespread criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of large farmer protests close to the capital. This strained an already difficult relationship between Twitter and the government.
Officials issued multiple injunctions against Twitter to stop hundreds of criticisms of the government. Twitter obeyed some of the injunctions and refused to comply with others.
Since then, relations between Modi’s government and Twitter have been deteriorating.
The core of the dispute is a broad internet law that places digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter under direct government supervision. Officials claim the rules are necessary to stop misinformation and hate speech, and give users more control over flagging objectionable content.
Critics of the law fear it could lead to outrightcensorship in a country that has seen digital freedoms shrinking since Modi was elected in 2014.
Police raided Twitter’s offices, accusing its India chief Manish Maheshwari of spreading “communal hate” and “hurting sentiments of Indians.” Maheshwari refused last week to answer questions unless police promised to not arrest him.
The company published a transparency documenton Wednesday showing that India has submitted the majority of government information requests (legal demands for account information) to Twitter. It was responsible for 25% of all global requests between July and December 2013.
It was the first time that the U.S. had been displaced as “top global requester” since 2012, when Twitter began publishing the report.
Raheel Khursheed, cofounder of Laminar Global and former head of Politics, Policy and Government at Twitter India, said that India’s plans for the internet seem to be similar to China’s. “Twitter’s story is a good example of how India will shape the future internet.”
Many countries are having similar problems for tech companies. China has been tightening restrictions on its market of 1.4 billion people. This market is already heavily sequestered by the Great Firewall of the Communist Party and U.S. technology and trade sanctions.
India is another heavyweight with an estimated 900 million users by 2025.
“Any internet company will know that India is the largest market in terms scale. Jayanth Kolla, a tech analyst, said that India is the largest market in terms of scale.
These new rules, which have been in development for years, were announced in February. They apply to digital news publishers, social media companies and streaming platforms. The new rules make it easier to order social media platforms that have more than 5 million users to remove content that has been deemed illegal. Individuals can now request that companies remove any material. A government ministry can flag content as illegal or dangerous and it must be removed within 36hrs. Non-compliance can lead to criminal prosecutions.
Tech companies must also have staff that can answer users’ complaints, respond to government requests, and ensure compliance with all rules.
Twitter missed the May deadline by three months, drawing strong criticism from the Delhi High Court. After months of negotiations with the government, it appointed all three required officers last week.
“Twitter will continue to work hard to adhere to the new IT Rules 2021. The company stated that it had kept the Government of India informed of progress at each stage of the process in a statement to Associated Press.
Apar Gupta is the executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation. He fears that the rules will result in many cases against internet platforms. It could also discourage people from using them freely and lead to self-censorship. Others criticize Modi’s Hindu nationalist government for imposing “digital authoritarianism”
Gupta stated that “if it becomes easier to take down user content, it will amount the chilling off of speech online.”
The government claims that the rules will empower and benefit Indians.
“Social media users have the ability to criticize Narendra Modi. They can also criticize government policies and ask questions. It must be recorded immediately . . Ravi Shankar Prasad, an ex-IT minister, said that a private company based in America should not lecture us about democracy when it denies its users the right of redress.
Despite the differences between Modi, Twitter and him, he is a passionate user of the platform to build support for his Bharatiya Janata Party. His government also collaborated closely with Twitter to allow Indians to access Twitter to request help from government ministries, especially during emergencies. The social media team of Bharatiya Janata Party has been accused of starting online attacks on Modi critics.
However, previous internet restrictions had prompted Freedom House, based in Washington, to include India, the most populous democracy in the world, as “partly-free” rather than “free” in its annual analysis.
Feb. 22nd law requires tech companies and police to assist in investigations and identify those who post “mischievous” information. Experts say that this could lead to end-to-end encryption being banned in India.
Facebook’s WhatsApp has over 500 million users in India. The government has been sued by the company, claiming that breaking encryption would “severely compromise the privacy of billions who communicate digitally”.
Officials claim they will only trace messages that encourage violence or threaten national security. WhatsApp claims it cannot do this selectively.
It’s like renting an apartment to someone, but you can still look at it whenever you wish. Khursheed, Laminar Global, said that who would want to live in such a house.
Kolla, a tech expert, stated that the backlash against online freedom of expression, privacy, and security concerns is occurring amid a global push to increase data transparency and localization.
Germany demands that social media companies use local staff and data storage in order to combat hate speech. Similar legislation is being drafted in countries like Vietnam and Pakistan. Turkey’s social media companies followed a broad mandate to remove content after being fined and facing threats to their advertising revenues.
Some companies have chosen to fight the new rules at the courts instead of leaving. At least 13 legal challenges were filed by individuals, news publishers, media organizations, and individuals. These cases can last for months, if not years.
Mishi Choudhary is a technology lawyer and the founder of India’s Software Freedom Law Center. She claims that social media platforms could lose their safe harbour protection. This protects them against legal liability for user-generated content. She said that courts will decide this on a case by case basis. Their legal costs will undoubtedly rise.
“You are aware of the Indian system. Choudhary stated that the process is the punishment. “Until we reach a point where the courts actually come and tells us what the legal situation is, it’s open season for tech backlash.”