Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad  speaking in Rajya Sabha on Thursday
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad speaking in Rajya Sabha on Thursday

New Delhi: Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday warned social media companies that while they have a big role in Digital India programme, action will be taken if they are misused to spread fake news and incite violence.

Speaking in Rajya Sabha, Prasad, the Minister of Electronics and IT, said, "We respect social media a lot, it has empowered common people. Social media has a big role in Digital India programme. However, if social media is misused to spread fake news, violence then action will be taken."

His statement came a day after the government expressed "strong displeasure" over Twitter's delay in taking prompt action against accounts and hashtags spreading misinformation and provocative content around the farmers' stir.

The IT Ministry on Wednesday made it clear that the company must comply with the country's laws irrespective of the platform's own rules.

Twitter has suspended over 500 accounts, and blocked access to several others within India while refusing to block accounts of "news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians" citing the need to uphold freedom of expression.

During a virtual interaction between IT Secretary and senior officials of Twitter, the government told the microblogging platform that as a business entity operating in India, it must respect the laws and democratic institutions and take strong action against "well-coordinated" campaigns "designed to create disharmony and unrest" in the country.

Slamming the delay by the platform in complying with government orders on taking down provocative content around farmers' stir, the IT Secretary also expressed dissatisfaction over Twitter's "differential treatment" in case of the US Capitol Hill siege, where it had taken prompt action.

"Secretary reminded Twitter about the action taken by Twitter during the Capitol Hill episode in the USA and compared that with the disturbance in Red Fort in India and its aftermath. He expressed dissatisfaction over Twitter's differential treatment in the two incidents," the IT Ministry said in a statement.

The government questioned the manner in which Twitter "officially allows fake, unverified, anonymous and automated bot accounts to be operated on its platform" and said it raises doubts about its commitment to transparency and healthy conversation on the platform.

Twitter was represented by Monique Meche, Vice President Global Public Policy and Jim Baker, Deputy General Counsel and Vice President Legal.

The "deep sense of disappointment" at seeing Twitter "side not with 'freedom of expression' but rather with those who seek to abuse such freedom and provoke disturbance to public order" was conveyed to the company, the statement added. The Secretary also flagged the issue around a 'toolkit' that was shared on its platform amid the farmers' protest, and said the chain of events had made it evident that a strong social media campaign was planned in a foreign country around the agitation.

"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 statement said.

(With PTI inputs)

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