The Union Government of India notified The Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 on 25 February and gave the significant social media intermediaries (SSMIs) 3 months to comply.
On 27 May, Twitter released an official statement saying that the organisation was “concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve”.
Twitter further acknowledged that its platform connected various organisations worldwide to India that 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”. The company then requested an extension from the Ministry.
A Facebook spokesman came ahead to notify that the tech giant is considering operational processes to comply with the new IT rules. In a statement, the spokesperson clarified how the social media platform remains pledged to its users’ ability to “freely and safely express” themselves on its platform.
The battle between tech giant Twitter and the Government of India began back in February when Barbadian pop star Rihanna, in a tweet, called out excesses by the Indian Government on protesting farmers. This led to many Indians from India and other countries openly coming out to support the music mogul. And none other than Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was also found liking Rihanna’s tweet.
Relations between microblogging site Twitter and the Indian Government have always been strained. While the latter has accused it of being partial towards the left, the former has time and again reminded that the platform is to amplify the voice of the dissent.
Twitter recently flagged tweets by the ruling party as “manipulated content” and also limited its reach. This fuelled the Indian Government and debates ran across various news channels in India questioning Twitter’s method of deciding a tweet’s authenticity.
A post made by BJP IT Cell Chief Amit Malviya was flagged as “manipulated media” and was restricted from being shared any further. The post contained a cropped video of a Delhi Police officer thrashing a protesting farmer with his baton, trying to convey that the farmer was not beaten.
Later, a longer version of the video was released that proved that the protesting farmer was, in fact, beaten by the Delhi policeman.
In May 2021, one of BJP’s Chief Spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweets was flagged as “manipulated media”. This caused outrage on the social media site and the ruling party strongly condemned this action, asking Twitter to reverse it.
A ministry official source told PTI, “The Ministry of Electronics and IT has written a strong communication to the global team of Twitter, registering its objection to the use of ‘manipulated media’ tag on certain tweets made by Indian political leaders with reference to a toolkit created to undermine, derail and demean the efforts of the government against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Only a few days later, Twitter’s Delhi office was raided and soon hashtag #BanTwitterInIndia caught a trend in India.
To many who assumed that IT rules were a byproduct of the quarrel between the Centre and Twitter, Ravi Shankar Prasad, The Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, said that these rules had not happened to appear suddenly but were a work under progress for the past many years.
It is difficult to comment if digital sovereignty lies in danger in India when you weigh both sides equally and in the same bearing.