Can a foreign private company dictate the functioning of a democracy?
Can the government of a country direct the conduct of a social media platform that claims to believe in free speech?
Is a private entity superior to the laws of a sovereign nation?
These questions resonate well with the ongoing tussle between the Indian government and Twitter.
How It Started?
The conflict began with the growing intensity of the Farmers’ Protest. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra‘s tweet regarding a toolkit was marked as ‘manipulated media.’ This incident brought Twitter into the government’s crosshair.
Over time, Twitter went on to mark certain tweets from other BJP ministers as ‘manipulated media.’
Then came the new IT Rules that every social media platform, willingly or unwillingly, complied with, except Twitter. Instead, it started giving rhetorics like the freedom of speech being at risk due to the new rules.
Twitter Had It Coming
Let me say this out loud: Twitter is a hypocrite.
It tries to maintain that it stands in favor of free speech but draws a line when it comes to hate speech and violence-mongering.
That’s good, except for the fact that Twitter is conveniently selective in such matters. It is Left-biased. Hate tweets by the Right lobby are removed or cautioned against, which is what should be done. But when it comes to hate tweets by the Left lobby, Twitter suddenly turns on its “free speech” mode and condones such tweets. The latest example is the muted video of a Muslim man getting beaten up by a gang. It was circulated by the so-called fact-finder AltNews claiming that the assaulters were a group of Hindus. They tried to give the whole incident a communal angle which could have created violence. Twitter, as expected, turned a blind eye towards this. This is one of the many instances where Twitter has been partial in favor of the Left, helping in driving the anti-India narrative.
Now, it is reluctant to abide by the IT Rules because it wants to escape responsibility and accountability regarding what’s posted on its platform. It has been making silly excuses for non-compliance for more than 3 months.
Twitter has now lost its ‘intermediary status in India, meaning it will be held directly responsible for every tweet on its platform as an endorser of the tweet.
Recently, Twitter blocked access to IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, a gross violation of Rule 4(8) of the New IT Rules. Ministers have been posting clips of their public interviews ever since the inception of Twitter. It is outright bizarre for Twitter to block and warn the IT Minister, whom it is primarily up against, on something so trivial and ordinary.
What it did here is that it followed an American law (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to block an Indian Minister on Indian soil by directly violating the Indian IT Rules. It’s as if Twitter is purposely digging its own grave in India.
This rogue behavior of the American tech giant begs a critical question: Does freedom of speech supersede the sovereignty of a country?
Free Speech Vs. Sovereignty
The Constitution of India places the sovereignty of a country over freedom of speech under Article 19(2). Every person in India has the right to speak up. But that cannot happen at the cost of the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. Twitter is humiliating the law and order of India on the global stage, which is not acceptable.
It is pretty simple. If Twitter wants to continue operating in India, it is bound to place the rules and regulations of India over its own policies. The IT Rules primarily aim to counter the arbitrariness and vagueness of platforms like Twitter.
The whole platform of Twitter is highly unregulated, with content on it stooping as low as child pornography. With so much dirt on its hands in the name of free speech, Twitter should consider introspecting instead of moral policing the government.
Student at Xavier Law School, Bhubaneswar.
I like to stay up-to-date with all the happenings in and around the world, with a special interest in Geo-politics and law.