As the COVID-19 crisis continues across India, Twitter has been at the forefront of the debate over free expression and the Indian government’s response to the crisis. Relations between the social media, which has about 75 million users in the country, and the ruling government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, strained in 2021. In February, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) announced new digital ethics standards will take effect on May 26, 2021.
This deadline prompted online claims that he would soon ban Twitter in India because he had apparently not complied with those rules.
The previous tweet was posted on what appeared to be a satirical account and later became a private account. In the early hours of May 26, 2021, Twitter had not yet been blocked or banned in India. But that doesn’t mean the company won’t face some challenges as the new rules go into effect.
What are the new ethical standards? In late February 2021, MeitY issued a set of guidelines that included, among other things, the requirement that social media companies and digital publishers establish a claims repair system, appoint a claims officer, and appoint a person in charge. compliance to ensure that the company complies with the rules and regulations. The new rules oblige companies to remove content that the government says is illegal within three days of notification, including content that threatens India’s sovereignty, public order, decency or morality. .
Crucially, the new rules also require that, after being requested by the government or the court, social media companies must disclose the origin of certain offensive tweets or messages. This rule would undermine end-to-end encryption in applications such as WhatsApp, a security and privacy risk. According to the new code:
A significant social media intermediary that provides services primarily by the nature of messaging will identify the first author of the information on your computer resource, as may be required by a court order approved by a court of competent jurisdiction or an order approved under Article 69. by the competent authority in accordance with the 2009 rules on information technology (procedures and guarantees for the interception, supervision and decryption of information), which shall be accompanied by a copy thereof. information in electronic format:
Provided that an order is given only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of a crime related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, State security, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, or incitement to a crime related to the above or related to rape, sexually explicit material or material of child sexual abuse, punishable by imprisonment for a term not less than five years […]
You can find a full analysis of the rules here.
Big companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and others were given three months to meet them. So far, only Koo, an Indian microblogging platform similar to Twitter, has accepted and adopted these guidelines. Facebook issued a statement stating that it intended to comply with these rules:
Our goal is to comply with the provisions of the IT rules and continue to discuss some of the issues that need more interaction with the government. According to IT standards, we are working to implement operational processes and improve efficiency. Facebook remains committed to the ability of people to express themselves freely and securely on our platform.
Twitter has not spoken publicly about the rules as of this writing and it is unclear whether it plans to abide by them. We have contacted Twitter for feedback and will update this post when we receive more information.
It should be noted that Twitter and the government have been fighting all year for censorship issues. In late May 2021, Indian police visited a Twitter office in Delhi after the social media company slapped a “manipulated media” tag in a tweet from ruling BJP party spokesman. In April 2021, Twitter complied with the government’s request to remove tweets that were critical of its management of the COVID-19 crisis. In early 2021, during months of farmers ’protests in Delhi, Twitter complied with the government’s request to suspend some accounts related to the protest, before reversing the suspension, citing“ insufficient justification ”. The government threatened Twitter employees in India with legal action and even jail.
In April 2021, Twitter said: “In the event that we receive more requests for content retention from the Government of India in the country, we will continue to be openly and constructively engaged based on our overall commitment to serve the public conversation during a crisis “.
What are the consequences of not complying with the new ethical guidelines? Companies could be held responsible for offending content posted on their platform, opening them up to costly legal (including possibly criminal) government actions.
It is unclear what all companies do about these rules as the deadline passes, but in March 2021, the head of WhatsApp implied the possibility of taking legal action against these rules, especially if the company is forced to stop end to end encryption on the platform. In fact, several outlets, including digital publishers, have challenged sections of the rules judicially.
The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), which has technology companies such as Google, Apple, Twitter and Facebook among its members, has written to the government asking for an extension of at least six months to comply. Citing the COVID-19 crisis and the challenges of setting up its operations with these new government demands, they wrote:
As intermediaries, we will perform a thorough mapping of the laws in relation to our services and identify the requirements for modification and compliance with these Rules. This will require legal, operational and technical changes that could include hiring a significant number of fresh and qualified staff to meet responsibilities, the latter being a particular challenge given the various constraints and human impact caused by the new wave. of COVID-19. […]
Since Twitter remains functional across India, but faces several challenges in light of the new rules of digital ethics imposed by the government, we consider this statement to be “Mostly False”. It is unclear what will happen to Twitter operations in India in the coming months and how the new rules will be enforced amid growing legal challenges. We will update this post and our ranking as more information becomes available.