Charting Twitter’s Collision Course in India as it Courts Controversy One After the Other

Ever since it lost its ‘safe harbour’ shield amid a heated row with the Indian government over the new IT rules, social media giant Twitter on Tuesday courted legal trouble for the fourth time. The Delhi Police has registered an FIR against Twitter for allegedly allowing access to child pornography on the microblogging platform based on a complaint by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

This, however, is not the only time when Twitter officials have been named in police cases or have had to face the Centre’s wrath over their seeming defiance of the new social media rules that aim to curb free reign and misuse of social platforms.

Twitter and the government have also been on a collision course on multiple other issues in the past months, including during the farmers’ protest against the farm laws and later when the microblogging platform tagged political posts of several leaders of the ruling party BJP as “manipulated media”. The Information and Technology ministry has called out Twitter on a number of occasions for attempting to dictate terms to the world’s largest democracy.

Here are all the times Twitter got into trouble with the Indian law:

IT Rules

The government has slammed Twitter for deliberate defiance and failure to comply with the country’s new IT rules. The new rules which came into effect on May 25 mandate social media companies to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for resolving complaints from the users or victims. All significant social media companies, with over 50 lakh user base shall appoint a grievance officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officers.

On June 16, Twitter lost its legal protection in India from prosecution over users’ posts due to its failure to comply with new digital rules.

Twitter has cited freedom of expression and the right to privacy to push back against these norms.

Falling off the map

The social media giant’s India MD Manish Maheshwari has been named in an FIR in Uttar Pradesh over an incorrect map of India which showed Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as a separate country. This is the second time Twitter has misrepresented India’s map. Earlier, it had shown Leh as a part of China. Reports said the microblogging site had removed the map after it was criticised and the government took note of it.

“This act of treason has been committed intentionally and action should be taken,” reads the complaint filed by right-wing group Bajrang Dal’s leader Praveen Bhati. The case has been filed under Section 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code (creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) and Section 74 of IT (Amendment) Act 2008.

Mapping trouble, again

Another FIR has been registered against Maheshwari in Madhya Pradesh, with the same allegation. Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra said he has directed the state Director General of Police (DGP) Vivek Johri to investigate the matter related to the distorted map and take legal action in this direction.

Ghaziabad Case

The microblogging site and several journalists were named in an FIR on June 16 for “flaring communal sentiments” after an elderly Muslim man claimed in a video that his beard was cut off and he was forced to chant “Vande Mataram” and “Jai Shri Ram”. Police, however, had ruled out any “communal angle”.

The allegation against Twitter is that it did not delete the tweet despite a clarification by the Ghaziabad police. Ruling out any communal angle in the case, the UP Police said Sufi Abdul Samad, the elderly man, was attacked by six men – Hindus and Muslims – who were unhappy over the amulets he had sold them. The FIR mentions several journalists – Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Mohammed Zubair as well as online news platform “The Wire”.

‘Manipulated Media’

BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya’s tweet was in December last year flagged as “manipulated media”. “Rahul Gandhi must be the most discredited opposition leader India has seen in a long time,” Malviya had written as he quoted the Congress leader.

On November 28, Rahul had shared the picture of a policeman whipping a baton towards an old farmer who was among the protesters of anti-farm bill demonstrations at Singhu border. “It is a very sad photo. Our slogan was ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ but today PM Modi’s arrogance made the jawan stand against the farmer,” the Congress leader had written.

Malviya quoted his tweet and uploaded a ‘Propaganda vs Reality’ video claiming the police “did not even touch the farmer.” Soon, fact-checking websites called Malviya’s claim ‘untrue’. The video that he shared to prove his point was reportedly a cropped version of the actual footage of the police action against the farmers at the Singhu border.

Twitter red flags content posted on its platform if they are “significantly and deceptively altered or fabricated, if they shared in a deceptive manner, or if they are likely to impact public safety or cause harm,” the site said in response, adding that it also removes content if two or more criteria are met.

Ticked off

Twitter had also faced backlash when it had briefly removed the blue tick verification badge from the personal account of Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu and of several senior RSS functionaries including its chief Mohan Bhagwat.

Access denied

Meanwhile, Minister for Electronics & Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad was on June 25 reportedly denied access to his own account on Twitter for almost an hour. Though the Twitter account of the Minister was visible for public viewing, Twitter did not permit anyone authorized to access this account to log in or make any post, they added.

Sources from the minister’s team said that Twitter neither gave them any prior intimation before blocking access to the account nor did it specify any content that was found violating the US laws on copyright.

Farmers’ protest

After the farmers’ protest in Delhi turned violent on Republic Day, the government ordered Twitter to take action against several accounts, but Twitter did not revert promptly to the request. It later complied, albeit only partially.

Toolkit

The government has also expressed its disapproval of the toolkit shared by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist. The Centre said that Twitter was being used to prepare a series of social media efforts in India to sow discord and unrest.

Slow ‘Pokes’

Twitter has also been blamed by the government for encouraging vaccine hesitancy. “Twitter’s lack of responsibility has led to rampant proliferation of fake and harmful content against India and Indians. Promoting vaccine hesitancy has been rampantly done through the use of the Twitter platform and yet Twitter has taken no action. Is this commitment to the people of India?” the Ministry of Information Technology has said.

Variants

According to the government, no action was taken by Twitter against posts that “maliciously” referred to the B.1.617 mutant as an Indian variant.

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