Under the new digital rules (IT Act 2021), Social Media companies are asked to identify within hours the originator of a flagged message as well as to conduct due diligence. It has been over three months & yet Twitter refuses to comply with it. Are we looking at a Twitter Ban in India? Why shouldn’t a social networking site based in the US fight for Free Speech in India and much more?
Reading the trending news? Check.
Helping someone out? Check.
Spreading Awareness? Check.
If there is one social networking platform that expedites the proliferation of real-time information & offers tenable free speech, it’s Twitter.
Twitter has been extremely useful in finding resources during India’s second wave.
Let’s look at a few instances when Twitter proved to be an instrumental platform in India-
i) In 2015 when many Indians were stranded in the quake-ravaged Himalayan nation (Nepal), Twitter became the most effective tool for the government to coordinate relief or help people in distress.
ii) Amidst Heavy Floods in Mumbai in 2017, Sportsmen, Radio Jockeys, among others, took to the platform to reach out to their followers. This helped in conveying important messages & averted panic.
iii) India is, fortunately, continuing on a downward curve in the 2nd Covid Wave. It’s Twitter which yet again played an essential part in information transfer — allowing people to connect for help (Monetary, Plasma Donation, Oxygen Availability, etc..).
With such remarkable instances, one may be surprised with the recent Ministry of Electronics & IT’s response to Twitter. In the Press release, the government questioned Twitter’s opaque policies & the ways with which the platform seeks to undermine the country’s legal system. Also, Just a few days ago, a team of Delhi Police’s Special Cell knocked on the doors of Twitter India’s Delhi & Gurugram offices to serve them a notice.
Well, to understand the government’s response, the people in India & across the globe need to look at some recent examples-
i) Soon after the Indo-Sino Clash at Galwan Valley in 2020, Leh was shown as a part of China’s land on Twitter. It was not only a far-reaching violation of law but also an open challenge to India’s sovereignty.
ii) Now, who can forget about the Citizenship Amendment Act Protests? Although it might be tempting to talk about the pros & cons of the act, here we would only discuss how Twitter helped forge a false narrative. The violence fueled by leveraging influencer accounts, especially by the “outside miscreants’’ led to the damage of public & private property, disrupting the lives of ordinary citizens & creating a severe law & order situation.
iii) While the platform has been helping a great deal amidst the second covid wave, some of its users are referring to B.1.617 mutant as “Indian Variant” is malicious.
Before jumping to any conclusion, it’s essential to note that the digital nation is a non-viable dream without transparent social networking sites. The issue raised by some people anticipating the Twitter Ban is not thought through.
Ever since the government has come into power, they have made a persuasive case for a digital economy. From promulgating online money transfer to high-Speed internet connectivity under Digital India, technology first has been the centre’s governance model.
While Twitter has played a relevant role over the years in India, it needn’t forget that it’s just a private entity. The Central government is elected to power by the people. It’s well within the rights of an MP to make a decision or pass a bill.
Granted such bills and amendments should be open for discussions but an organisation based in California shouldn’t fight the battle. It’s well within the rights of Indians to discuss & scrutinise all the existing or proposed amendments and share their insights. It’s guaranteed under the Fundamental Rights (Article 19) of the Indian Constitution. More so, in case of any violation by the State, any Indian has the right to approach the Courts.
Nevertheless, it’s highly impractical for a private business to intervene on the same when it clearly on multiple occasions has stated, “it’s just a mediator!”
Recently, Twitter said it had received a notice of noncompliance with India’s information technology laws. The notice asked the company to delete critical content, especially about how the Indian government failed to contain the second wave.
Now we must understand that Twitter is a business model & it doesn’t matter to the organisation who gets what unless it generates revenue. Last year alone, when most of the businesses shattered, Twitter was able to generate US$3.72 billion in revenue.
It’s a foreign corporation with perhaps little or no knowledge about India. Founded in 2006, the social media company has most of its ownership in the west. Perhaps a little understanding of Indian History would help Twitter understand the concept of Free Speech in India.
In India, the tradition of free speech dates back to the Rig Veda, & can be traced in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, sermons of Gautam Buddha & also the edicts of emperor Ashoka. A wide variety of views coexisted & can easily be summarised as freedom of enquiry.
The free public gatherings and discussions were held in the universities of Nalanda & Vikramshila. Many religious scholars belonging to different sects & beliefs were allowed to build their respective institutions to spread knowledge & awareness.
Religions like Buddhism, Jainism & Sikhism evolved out of Hinduism & have flourished in the centuries to come. Parsis initially settled at Hormuz on the Persian Gulf escaped Islamic persecution to settle in India in the 10th Century.
Moreover, despite ruling the land for centuries, two of the world’s largest religions Islam & Christianity are recognised as minorities and are granted more fundamental rights in Independent India. If this is not tolerance, then what is?
Passed in February 2021, Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 orders the Social Media platforms to follow due diligence. It includes the appointment of a Grievance Officer, Chief Compliance Officer & a Nodal Contact Person.
This could ensure transparency & timely addressability of complaints. In a nutshell, the Act looks to ensure the Online Safety & Dignity of users. This would also help in the identification of the first originator of the information.
Furthermore, can help punish people for an offence related to the sovereignty & integrity of India, the Security of the State on social media platforms. Also, if done right, this could make social media platforms more transparent as they often don’t take responsibility for fake IDs, Bots and unidentified influencers.
Conclusively, banning Twitter or any other social media platforms in India is not in a good taste. The government shouldn’t be as stringent and look at the positive aspects of it. Some of the businesses in India generate their revenue from Social media marketing. Unless India has robust home-grown compliant & efficient platforms and a very strong reason to ban, all Social networking sites should continue to exist.
That said, not at the cost of undermining & defaming India. Twitter can look at this as an opportunity to understand that no two cultures can be similar. How it operates in the US can’t be similar to how it manages business in India. Indians, in general, are susceptible to falling for the fake news narrative. The list includes the likes of Shashi Tharoor, an MP at Lok Sabha.
If a person of his calibre can fall prey to false narratives then imagine how efficient the rest of the Indians are at fact-checking. Many influencer accounts, often unverified and bots, are leveraged to spread false news against India. This not just perpetuates violence but also adds a negative image of the country on a global scale.