The ongoing disagreement between social networking app Twitter and the Indian government over the ongoing farmers’ protests around Delhi is reaching a crescendo.
Earlier this month, the government sought the suspension of several Twitter accounts that had tweeted about the protests, alleging the spread of misinformation. Twitter initially complied but reinstated them after a few hours, leading to a rebuke from the government.
On Tuesday, Twitter, in a blog post, said that it had complied with the government’s requests and took action accounts violating their violence, abuse, threat and harm principles. But it had “not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians.”
“We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve. We are exploring options under Indian law — both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow,” Twitter said in the post.
On Wednesday, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, met virtually with Twitter executives Monique Meche, VP of global public policy, and Jim Baker, deputy general counsel and VP legal.
“The secretary told the Twitter representatives that in India, we value freedom and we value criticism because it is part of our democracy. India has a robust mechanism for protection of freedom of speech and expression that is very elaborately explained as Fundamental Rights under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India. But freedom of expression is not absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions as mentioned in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India. Various judgments of the Supreme Court have also upheld this from time to time,” said a statement from the Ministry on Wednesday.
The ministry statement also said that government orders are to be followed immediately as they become meaningless if executed days later. It also criticized Twitter for allowing fake, unverified and bot accounts on the platform.
“Twitter leadership affirmed their commitment towards following Indian laws and rules,” the statement added.
On Thursday, addressing the Indian parliament, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, said, “If social media are misused to spread fake news and violence, then action will be taken on the misuse of social media in India whether Twitter or (someone) else.”
Meanwhile, the Indian government lawmakers are actively promoting homegrown rival Koo as an alternative to Twitter. Lawmakers who’ve switched to the app include Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways, Commerce & Industry, and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Actors endorsing Koo include Anupam Kher (“New Amsterdam”) and Kangana Ranaut (“Queen”).
— Kangana Ranaut (@KanganaTeam) February 10, 2021
— Anupam Kher (@AnupamPKher) February 10, 2021