Twitter has been given three weeks to comply with India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 – which came into effect last week.
Twitter has protested the new rules on grounds that they inhibit free speech. India’s government has labelled Twitter’s reaction as anti-democratic meddling in the nation’s affairs.
The ruling compelling Twitter to get its house in order came yesterday in the form of an order from the Delhi High Court, which heard a petition from an Indian citizen who complained that the micro-blogging service had not complied with the Code’s requirement to appoint a grievance officer in India.
During the hearing, Twitter revealed it has made an appointment to that role. The company has since posted contact details for that officer, naming contacts in the USA and India – and a single email address – as the point of contact for individual Indians and government agencies that wish to raise problems with content on Twitter.
Appointment of a grievance officer is one of many requirements social media companies are obliged to implement under the new Code. The officer is required to take down risqué images within 24 hours, and deleting content as ordered by the government or courts no more than 36 hours after receiving a takedown notice.
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India’s government has stated that grievance officers are needed to ensure that child exploitation material does not persist online if automated filters for such material – another requirement in the Code – do not work. The Code also requires social networks and messaging services to “enable identification of the first originator” of material posted to such services. That requirement has been roundly criticised as effectively breaking end-to-end encryption and seen WhatsApp sue India, reportedly on grounds that it violates privacy guarantees in India’s constitution.
Twitter has made no further obvious comment on the Delhi High Court ruling, which may be a function of it having been made over a holiday weekend in the USA.
It’s unclear what would happen to Twitter if it does not comply with the new court order, but India’s national and state governments have often implemented blocks on social networks when it is felt the content they carry could incite violence by merely informing users of the time and location of protests. That India has imposed blocks using that logic is one reason entities covered by the new Code find it unacceptable and hope to amend its wording to offer better protection for free speech. However public opinion in India is currently running firmly in the government’s favour on this matter. ®