New Delhi: The IT Ministry on Wednesday said Twitter is free to formulate its own rules and guidelines like any other business entity working in India, however, the microblogging website must respect the country's laws and democratic institutions.
"Due to India’s conducive business environment, open Internet and firm commitment to the freedom of expression Twitter as a platform has grown significantly in India in last few years. Twitter, as a business entity working in India, must also respect the Indian laws and democratic institutions. Twitter is free to formulate its own rules and guidelines, like any other business entity does, but Indian laws which are enacted by the Parliament of India must be followed irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines," Secretary Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India in a virtual interaction told Monique Meche, Vice President Twitter Global Public Policy and Jim Baker Deputy General Counsel and Vice President Legal.
The Secretary told the Twitter representatives that in India, we value freedom and we value criticism because it is part of our democracy. India has a robust mechanism for protection of freedom of speech and expression that is very elaborately explained as Fundamental Rights under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India. But freedom of expression is not absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions as mentioned in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India. Various judgments of the Supreme Court have also upheld this from time to time, said a press release from the IT Ministry.
The Secretary also took up the issue of using a hashtag on ‘farmer genocide’ with Twitter executives and expressed strong displeasure on the way Twitter acted after an emergency order was issued to remove this hashtag and content related to that. Spreading misinformation using an incendiary and baseless hashtag referring to ‘farmer genocide’ at a time when such irresponsible content can provoke and inflame the situation is neither journalistic freedom nor freedom of expression as envisaged under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Despite the attention of Twitter being drawn to such content by the Government through a lawful process, the platform allowed the content with this hashtag to continue, which was extremely unfortunate, the release added.
He also mentioned that revelations around a certain “Toolkit”--tweeted by Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg--has made it evident that a strong social media campaign was planned in a foreign country around farmers protest. Misuse of Twitter’s platform for execution of such campaigns designed to create disharmony and unrest in India is unacceptable and Twitter must take strong action against such well-coordinated campaigns against India, through compliance with the applicable law of the land, the release further said.
The government also conveyed to the Twitter leadership that the manner in which Twitter officially allows "fake, unverified, anonymous and automated bot accounts to be operated on its platform, raises doubts about its commitment to transparency and healthy conversation" on this platform.
Meanwhile, the IT Ministry said Twitter leadership has affirmed their commitment towards following Indian laws and rules. "They also expressed their continuing commitment towards building their services in India. They have also requested for better engagement between Government of India and Twitter’s global team," it added.
This comes after Twitter said that it has taken a range of enforcement actions, including permanent suspension in certain cases, against more than 500 accounts escalated across orders from the Indian government for clear violation of its rules. It, however, said that some of the "actions we have been directed to take are not consistent with Indian law."
The government, however, termed Twitter's move to publish the blogpost before slated talks with the IT Secretary on the issue as "unusual".