New Delhi: On Wednesday, India’s struggle with Twitter escalated. The government accused the American company of deliberately ignoring new IT rules because of reports that it can now be sued for user tweets.
Currently, social media companies operating in India are classified as intermediaries, exempting them from criminal liability for any content posted on their platforms.
However, if these companies do not comply with the new “Intermediary Guidelines” that took effect in India on May 26, they will lose this protection.
These rules-which critics say can be used to suppress dissent-require these companies to provide detailed information about the “first sponsor” of posts believed to undermine India’s sovereignty, national security, or public order.
The technology company must also appoint a Chief Compliance Officer and a “Appeal Handling Officer”, both located in India.
The Indian government stated on June 5 that although Facebook and other peers complied, Twitter did not. It gave it “last notice” to do so.
On Wednesday, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Twitter that the company is still insisting.
“It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance”, Prasad said.
He stopped short of saying whether Twitter had now lost its protection from prosecution, however. He said the new rules were aimed at tackling the “menace of fake news”.
The Times of India reported on Wednesday that Twitter has now lost its so-called “safe harbour” immunity from prosecution for “unlawful” or “inflammatory” tweets.
After not complying, “Twitter now stands exposed to action… for any third-party unlawful content,” the paper quoted an unnamed government source as saying.
Twitter on Wednesday insisted that it was “making every effort to comply with the new Guidelines” and was in close touch with the government.
“An interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the Ministry directly soon,” a spokesperson told AFP.
Experts say that Twitter may now find itself overwhelmed by the prosecution.
On Tuesday, Uttar Pradesh police released a video on the platform showing a Muslim man’s beard was shaved during the attack. This may be the first time, this may be the first time.
Twitter users have suggested that this was a sectarian attack, but the police indicated that the attackers were Hindus and Muslims, and the reason for the attack was a personal dispute.
Nikhil Pahwa, the founder of the technology and policy publication Medianama, stated that the government is sending messages to “other intermediaries, and this may happen to you.”
He said that Twitter will now have to challenge the rules in Indian courts, just like Facebook’s WhatsApp subsidiary — while still following the rules — did.