Twitter concerned over staff safety, freedom of expression in India

27.05.2021

Twitter said on Thursday that it was concerned about the safety of its staff in India and the potential threat to the freedom of expression of its users in connection with new government rules for large social media platforms.

The statement came days after Delhi police visited Twitter's offices to serve a notice in connection with a tweet from a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesman that it had labelled as "manipulated."

Twitter's comments come as the Indian government is engaged in a tense stand-off with global digital companies over the new regulatory rules effective from Wednesday.

"Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve," a Twitter spokesman said. "We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT rules," he added.

The requirement to appoint a compliance officer who will be criminally liable for content published on the platform, requirements for proactive monitoring and the blanket authority to seek information about users, were particularly worrying, according to Twitter.

Twitter said it will continue a constructive dialogue with the government while advocating for changes to those elements of the regulations that "inhibit free and open public conversation."

The Indian government accused the microblogging platform of "deliberate defiance" and said "Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land."

"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," said a statement from the Ministry of Electronics and IT.

The government said it wanted to "emphatically assure" representatives of social media companies that they are and will always be safe in India.

The ministry in February issued fresh guidelines that require internet-based platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter to follow several new regulatory measures. These include appointing a compliance officer in India, identifying the first originator of specified content and setting up a grievance response mechanism.

The micro-blogging platform has asked the ministry for an extension of at least three months to implement the new rules.

Twitter was refusing to comply with the very regulations on the basis of which it was claiming safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India, the IT ministry release said.

The new guidelines identify social media platforms with over 5 million users as "significant intermediaries".

If they fail to comply with the new guidelines, these platforms can lose their status as intermediaries which means they will be open to legal action for something posted on their platform along with the poster. (dpa)

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