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Indian Court Demands Twitter Compliance, Government Fallout With Company Over Free Speech

Arvind Datta
Arvind is a recluse who prefers staying far away from the limelight as possible. Be that as it may, he keeps a close eye on what's happening and reports on it to keep people rightly informed.
Published: June 3, 2021
Police barricades are seen in front of the gate of the Twitter India's office at Crescent building in New Delhi on May 25, 2021, as police served a notice at Twitter's offices over flagged governments tweets as 'manipulated media' a day before.
Police barricades are seen in front of the gate of the Twitter India's office at Crescent building in New Delhi on May 25, 2021, as police served a notice at Twitter's offices over flagged governments tweets as 'manipulated media' a day before. (Image: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images)

The Delhi High Court has given Twitter three weeks to put on record that it has appointed a Resident Grievance Officer in India. Twitter’s refusal to observe Indian regulations has stoked controversy in recent weeks, with the central government condemning the platform for attempting to “dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy.”

The court’s decision was based on the country’s newly passed Information Technology (IT) Rules, 2021, first announced on Feb. 25. Social media companies were given three months to comply, but Twitter failed to meet the deadline. One of the rules asked social media companies to appoint a Resident Grievance Officer in India.

“The intermediary shall prominently publish on its website, mobile-based application or both, as the case may be, the name of the Grievance Officer and his contact details as well as mechanism by which a user or a victim may make complaint against violation of the provisions of this rule or any other matters pertaining to the computer resources made available by it,” according to the government directive.

Other guidelines included (a) keeping a record of the first originators of text, tweets, and posts, (b) taking down offensive content within 36 hours of receiving notice, and (c) establishing automated processes to remove pornography from their platforms.

A petition was filed in the Delhi High Court by a Twitter user stating that Twitter must comply with the IT Rules, 2021. The petitioner said that he was unable to lodge a complaint with a Resident Grievance Officer because of the social media platform’s non-compliance.

In the court, Justice Rekha Palli said that “if the rules are there, as long as they are not stayed… they (Twitter) have to follow it. It is very simple, if the rules are there, there is no choice, you have to (comply with it),” reported Bar and Bench.

Appearing on behalf of Twitter, Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya stated that the company has already complied with the requirement of hiring a local grievance officer. “Absolutely, there is no question. Without a stay, I have to comply. The Resident Grievance Officer has now been appointed and that appointment happened by a letter of 28th of May. I will place it on [an] affidavit,” said Poovayya.

Palli stated that if Twitter had already complied with the requirement, the court could dismiss the case. However, Poovayya said that since Twitter is an American company, he would file the firm’s stance in an affidavit. As such, the court granted Twitter three weeks to file an affidavit to substantiate its claim of compliance. The case has been listed for a hearing on July 6.

Disagreements with the Indian government

Last month, Twitter had slapped a “manipulated tag” on one of the tweets posted by a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Police officials visited Twitter’s office to serve notice on the issue.

Subsequently, Twitter expressed concerns about “the use of intimidation tactics by the police” and that the company was “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India.” The social media platform brought up “the potential threat to freedom of expression” in the country.

In response, the Indian government condemned the “unfortunate” statement issued by Twitter, calling it “baseless, false, and an attempt to defame India to hide their own follies.” The government said, “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.”

“Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with Indian law. Lawmaking and policy formulations are the sole prerogatives of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform,” the statement continued.

With regard to farmers protests in India, 70 farmers reportedly died at protest sites up through Jan. 16. On Jan, 26, India’s Republic Day, protesting farmers broke through barricades to storm the historic Red Fort and hoist other flags alongside the national flag. One protester died, and 80 police officers were injured in the incident.

On Feb. 4, the government asked Twitter to remove 1,178 accounts related to the farmers protest in the country. The administration believed that the accounts were linked to Khalistan fundamentalists backed by Pakistan. In April, Twitter was also asked to remove certain posts that were critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey liked a few tweets in support of farmers protests, which the government felt raised questions about the social media platform’s neutrality. Twitter initially refused to remove the accounts, but eventually complied under government pressure. Twitter has approximately 18 million users in India.