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‘Baseless, False and Attempt to Defame’: Indian Gov’t on Twitter’s Concern For Freedom of Expression

© AP Photo / Matt Rourke, FileTwitter app on a mobile phone.
Twitter app on a mobile phone. - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.05.2021
Earlier in the day, Twitter expressed concerns over "the potential threat to Freedom of Expression” in India with regard to the country’s new digital rules released in February. In its statement, the micro-blogging app referred to the Indian government’s demand of traceability of problematic content to curb fake news.

India’s federal Ministry of Information Technology (MeitY) on Thursday issued a three-page reply to Twitter calling the app’s concern regarding “threatened” freedom of speech in India an "attempt to dictate terms to the world’s largest democracy" and tagging it baseless and false.

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“India has a glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices dating back centuries. Protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter," read the ministry's statement, that was originally posted on Twitter’s India-made rival Koo app.

"The Government condemns the unfortunate statement issued by Twitter as totally baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their own follies,” it added. 

Twitter was launched in India back in 2006. In past 15 years in the country, the micro-blogging site has attracted 60 million users as it is seen as a means of connecting those in power to the common man, and vice versa.

The platform, however, often gets exploited as a medium to spread harmful and fake content that has caused violent incidents, property damage and communal unrest.

In its statement, MeitY pointed out that the government’s demand to allow the origin of a message to be traced in case of an unfortunate incident, is designed to keep Indians and the community safe.

“Twitter refuses to comply with those very regulations on the basis of which it is claiming a safe harbour to any criminal liability in India. The only instance of scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people’s accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily,” MeitY’s statement added.

This statement by the Indian government comes days after Delhi Police visited Twitter’s offices in New Delhi and Gurugram after a tweet by a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was described as “manipulated media”.

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Referring to the incident, Twitter in its statement today accused Indian authorities of threatening the fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech in the country. The app, however, noted that it will try and keep up with the country’s law while maintaining transparency with users. 

“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," a Twitter spokesperson had said.

Twitter is not the only foreign app that has not immediately complied with IT rules announced by federal Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar on 25 February.

On Wednesday, Facebook-owned WhatsApp approached the Delhi High Court by filing a legal complaint urging it to push back enforcement of these IT rules. The deadline for social networking users to accept these rules was 25 May – that has now passed.

For now, the Indian government has written to the social networking companies to submit a compliance report regarding accepting the laws as soon as possible.

Along with requiring social networking apps to reveal the origin of problematic content at the government's request, India’s IT rules have also directed Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to appoint designated officers to tend user grievances and coordinate with security agencies round the clock.

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