Twitter Concerned about Free Speech in India after “intimidation tactics” from officials

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A DAY after Facebook-owned WhatsApp approached the court to challenge the traceability provision in the new IT Rules, another US social media giant Twitter termed the Delhi Police’s visit to its offices as “intimidation tactics” — and said it was concerned for its employees in India and by a “potential threat” to free speech of Twitter users.

“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. 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. We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

“We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public,” the spokesperson said.

Twitter’s statement comes five days after the Delhi Police knocked on the company’s Delhi and Gurgaon offices to serve a notice asking top executives to join the probe into a complaint by the Congress against allegations tweeted by BJP leaders of a “toolkit” plot to malign the Prime Minister and the Government.

Police have also sought information from Twitter on why it has labelled tweets that raised the “toolkit” allegations against the Congress, including by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, as “manipulated media”.

The IT Ministry had asked Twitter to drop the label since law enforcement agencies were probing the issue and said that “this action not only dilutes the credibility of Twitter as a neutral and unbiased platform…but also puts a question mark” on its status as an intermediary. These tweets, however, still carry the “manipulated media” label.

As per Twitter’s policies, the label “manipulated media” is added only when the content or the tweet has been altered in a way that is different from what the facts are or in a way that its context is completely different from the original. The IT Ministry had also questioned Twitter’s process of labelling the tweets and asked it to come clear on who were the fact-checkers behind the process.

Meanwhile, Facebook Thursday launched a new way to inform people if the content they are seeing on their timeline has been cross-verified by a fact-checker. “Whether it’s false or misleading content about COVID-19 and vaccines, climate change, elections or other topics, we’re making sure fewer people see misinformation on our apps,” Facebook said in a blog post.

Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are under pressure to enforce a series of guidelines issued by the Government, including a demand to designate key executives in the country, such as a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person.

While the deadline for enforcement was Wednesday, Facebook indicated that it will comply with the IT rules but “continue to discuss a few of the issues which need more engagement with the government”.

In a petition filed Tuesday, WhatsApp said the provision requiring intermediaries to enable identification of the first originator of information on their platforms “breaks end-to-end encryption… and impermissibly infringes upon users’ fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech”.

Twitter said Thursday that it would “strive to” comply with the laws but within the global ambit of the principles of transparency and would remain committed to empowering all voices on its platform and protecting their privacy.

ording to Twitter, the company is concerned about the requirement to make an individual criminally liable for content on the platform, the requirements for proactive monitoring, and the blanket authority to seek information about its users. This, it said, represents “dangerous overreach”.

Apart from Twitter, Google’s chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said that the company was committed to complying with the laws in India and engaged with governments as they scrutinise and adapt regulatory frameworks to keep pace with the technology landscape.

“It’s obviously early days and our local teams are very engaged… we always respect local laws in every country we operate in and we work constructively. We have clear transparency reports, when we comply with government requests, we highlight that in our transparency reports,” Pichai said in a virtual conference with select reporters from Asia Pacific. —(With PTI)

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