New Delhi: Having failed to fall in line despite last-minute claims of compliance, Twitter has lost the legal fig leaf that gave it a degree of immunity in India and protected it from prosecution for its posts.
The company’s top executives, including the country managing director, can now face police questioning and be held criminally liable over ‘unlawful’ and ‘inflammatory’ content posted on the platform by any user.
With this, it has lost its intermediary status which had endowed it with certain privileges. Twitter is the first American platform to have lost the protective cover – granted under Section 79 of the IT Act, even though others such as YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp remain by and large in a safe harbour.
Reacting to the developments, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Electronics & Information Technology, said it is “astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines”.
Though Prasad's tweets did not directly say whether Twitter had lost intermediary protections, he shared a news article that was headlined "Twitter is no longer an intermediary". This means Twitter may no longer be eligible to seek liability exemptions as an intermediary or the host of user content in India due to its failure to comply with the rules that came into effect on May 26, which require major social media sites to appoint officers based in India.
Referring to the row over an alleged fake video in Uttar Pradesh, the minister said: "What happened in UP was illustrative of Twitter's arbitrariness in fighting fake news." He was of the view that while Twitter has been over enthusiastic about its fact-checking mechanism, it's failure to act in multiple cases like the one in UP is perplexing and indicates its inconsistency in fighting misinformation.
Prasad pointed out that Twitter was given multiple opportunities to comply with the new intermediary rules; however, it has "deliberately chosen" the path of non-compliance.
The unkindest cut came when the minister said in a tweet: Further, what is perplexing is that Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to set up process as mandated by the law of the land. Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging only when it suits its likes and dislikes, he said.