Twitter is now legally responsible for any user’s tweets in India, government rules

The ruling comes after numerous disagreements between Narendra Modi’s government and social media companies

Adam Smith
Tuesday 06 July 2021 15:01

Twitter can now be held responsible for user-generated content in India, according to a new announcement from the Indian government.

The Modi administration said that the company lost its immunity after refusing to comply with its rules - although legal experts say that the Indian government cannot make such a claim.

Twitter, alongside WhatsApp and Instagram, refused to comply with new Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, which game into effect last May.

The guidelines imposed greater regulatory measures against the social media companies, as well as the appointment of a chief compliance officer, and the removal of any content flagged by authorities within 36 hours.

However, this legislation comes in the wake of Narendra Modi’s orders to block hundreds of accounts over political disputes between farmers and the government.

Tens of thousands of farmers had camped in the outskirts of India’s capital Delhi since January 2021, demanding the repeal of agricultural reforms that unions fear could leave them worse off.  Twitter initially complied with the government’s request, but then restored most of the accounts after a public outcry.

India’s IT ministry told the New Delhi High Court that Twitter’s non-compliance comes after a user complained about allegedly defamatory tweets, and said the company was refusing to comply by not appointing executives, Reuters reports.

Despite the claims from Mr Modi’s government, however, legal experts believe the decision falls to India’s courts rather than a unilateral declaration by the state. “It’s basically a political pressure tactic,” Divij Joshi, a lawyer and researcher studying technology regulation in India, told Rest of World.

“Twitter is in a situation right now where it has to balance its human rights considerations with the political environment in India. And the government is trying to do its best to make sure the balance falls in its favour.”

Twitter declined to comment.

WhatsApp, in response to the legislation, also recently filed lawsuit against the Indian government to block the new rules – which would require instant messaging platforms to identify “originator” of messages when authorities demand.

The legislation could undermine protections under end-to-end encryption, making every citizen liable to surveillance from the government.

The Indian government’s laws are similar to the debate had in the United States over Section 230 last year, which protects any website or service that hosts content – from the world’s largest companies such as Facebook and Twitter and news outlets’ comment sections, to cooking forums – from being legally liable for content posted by its users.

Section 230 has been a political battlefield for some years, partly due to misrepresentation of the law conflated with the separate issue of perceived social media bias against those on the political right.

Moreover, the United States and India have had a close relationship with regards to the censorship of technology platforms. Former president Donald Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok - something that did not happen - was reminiscent of a ban India undertook before, for similar concerns over national security that the company repeatedly denied.

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