The Indian government’s dispute with Twitter took a new turn over the weekend with Information Technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad accusing the micro-blogging service of breaking Indian law by following US law.
Shankar, whose portfolio includes Law & Justice, Communications, Electronics & IT, made the argument that Twitter was again flouting Indian law after his account was briefly locked when the avian network acted on a complaint about copyrighted material appearing in the minister’s feed.
Twitter’s actions were in gross violation of Rule 4(8) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 where they failed to provide me any prior notice before denying me access to my own account.— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) June 25, 2021
Shankar pointed out that India’s new Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code requires operators like Twitter to advise users before their accounts are shut down. The minister also claimed he has never received a complaint about his inclusion of TV news clips in his feed and interpreted Twitter’s actions as follows:
It is apparent that my statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers.— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) June 25, 2021
Twitter’s actions indicate that they are not the harbinger of free speech that they claim to be but are only interested in running their own agenda, with the threat that if you do not toe the line they draw, they will arbitrarily remove you from their platform.— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) June 25, 2021
Shankar offered no evidence for his assertions about Twitter’s motives and did not note that the micro-blogging service is headquartered in the USA and therefore bound to observe American law as well as the laws of other nations in which it operates.
The minister’s account was restored in under an hour, and there is no indication that Twitter responded to Prasad’s ire.
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India’s government and Twitter have been beefing over the Code, which among other things requires social networks to appoint local officers who handle content takedown requests and act as a point of contact for other grievances.
Twitter missed the deadline to name those officers, then named its US office and a local law firm as its appointed contacts rather than naming local employees into the roles.
India’s government considered that response to be disingenuous and cranked up the pressure on Twitter to comply, but Twitter has declined to do so. The service currently faces legal action brought by Indian States and private individuals over its recent decision to either allow circulation of some material or block it. Defending those actions may be hard, as Twitter’s non-compliance with the Code means it may have lost a legal shield that absolves it from liability for illegal content posted by its users. Minister Prasad has alluded to Twitter losing that protection, but the paperwork making it official is yet to emerge.
Now it appears that Twitter is headed for more trouble as Indian media report that Twitter’s temporary grievance officer has quit the role.
If correct, that leaves Twitter on the wrong side of both the spirit and letter of the Code. And probably ripe for further ministerial kicking. ®