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Twitter Sues Indian Government: IT guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code 2021

Report by Avinash Pandey

The Information Technology Act and The Information Technology Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, 2021 allow the Indian Government to take down certain online activities that they seem might be against National Security or against the general public. The Indian government had already issued numerous warnings to Twitter about the tweets and Twitter accounts that were spreading hatred and to be terminated immediately. Even though twitter had moved its regulation and ability for people to tweet about certain controversial things but the Government had been questioning and making Twitter delete tweets some of which were not even racial or against national security.

Twitter was also challenged in May 2021 when it categorized the tweet of a BJP representative as manipulative in nature, even though Twitter has been under fire for most of the last year. However, they are not the only company that had to change to continue the business in India, WhatsApp with over 540 Million active users in India was also directed to change their existing policies which they later challenged by saying that if they work according to the regulations of the government the data of the users will be easily traceable against the existing laws.

Twitter took to the Karnataka High Court challenging the claims by the Indian Government and the threats that the Government had passed against the chief compliance officer that an arrest warrant will be released against him if Twitter does not comply with the regulations of the Act. Speaking about the topic the Junior Minister of Information Technology said that everyone has the right to go to court and everyone can enjoy Judicial review but it is important to note that the contention is unambiguous to the Indian Legal System. The government wanted Twitter to set up an Indian representative as grievance management for the removal of certain tweets and this was challenged by Twitter saying that it might create bias.

This demand by the government arose because of a video not taken down by Twitter showing communal violence. The situation between the Indian Government and Twitter has been hostile as the newly introduced laws are making Twitter and other social media applications hold on to users’ personal information. Twitter was requested to remove all the posts criticizing the farmers’ bill and any post relating to the farmer’s protest which they had duly done but it sparked a lot of criticism stating that the government is using social media platforms to shut down the voices.

Twitter in the transparency report that they had filed with the suit in the Karnataka High Court displayed that from January 2021 to June 2021 India had been ranked amongst the top 5 countries that had demanded the removal of criticizing tweets. There were 5000 legal demands from countries including Japan, Russia, Turkey, South Korea and India out of which 12% came from India itself. A Twitter spokesperson recently stated that the removal of tweets and
other controversial topics are done in private so the general public does not have a say in this but the people who knew about the issue had already given out their opinion on Twitter itself by stating that the removal of criticism for government policies will impact the free expression for the people online.

The experts have highly criticized the number of legal documents for censorship that the Indian government had to send and they have also stated that the current government is trying to silence the criticism that they get on social media even though the political party in power has refrained and denied all the claims against them. It can be clearly seen from all the documents submitted that only the tweets criticizing the government are being removed. Even though Twitter stated that the laws that are made by the government will infringe the right to freedom of speech and expression of the general public. Not taking any of this into consideration, the central government basically stated that the company should take accountability rather than challenging the Indian technology act and should work on how
the laws have advised them to. Specifically speaking about the current issue they further said that we had given numerous chances for Twitter to reflect upon their steps but almost every time they have fallen short of it.

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