Twitter worry over ‘freedom of expression’ in India

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Twitter has expressed concerns over “freedom of expression in India”, days after the police visited their offices.

The police served notice to the social media giant after it labelled a tweet as “manipulated media”.

Twitter had applied the label to a tweet by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Sambit Patra.

The incident came amid tense relations between the Indian government and digital companies over new regulatory rules.

Leaders of the BJP had shared screenshots of a document on Twitter recently that they said was created by the main opposition party Congress to highlight the government’s failure in handling the pandemic.

Congress complained to Twitter that the documents were fake – leading Twitter to mark some of the posts – including one by Mr Patra – as “manipulated media”.

Under Twitter rules, it applies “manipulated media” tags to posts that include “media (videos, audio, and images) that have been deceptively altered or fabricated”.

“Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve,” a Twitter spokesperson told the BBC on Thursday.

“We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, 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.”

Delhi police said on Monday they had carried out the visit to Twitter to serve a notice to the company’s managing director after receiving a complaint about how Mr Patra’s tweet had been classified.

In February, the government introduced new guidelines to regulate digital content on social media and streaming platforms.

Under the new rules, social media platforms with more than five million users would be required to appoint a compliance officer, a nodal contact officer and a resident grievance officer.

In addition, they would have to track the originator of a particular message if asked by a court or the government.


India farmer protests


Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp were given three months to comply with these rules.

On Wednesday, WhatsApp sued the Indian government over the rules that will force the messaging service to violate privacy protections.

Twitter said it was “particularly concerned about the requirement to make an individual (the compliance officer) criminally liable for content on the platform, the requirements for proactive monitoring, and the blanket authority to seek information about our customers”.

This, the social media giant said, represented “dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles”.

Twitter urged the government to “consider a minimum of three months extension in order for Twitter to implement the rules”.

“We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public,” a spokesperson for the platform said.

In April, India ordered Twitter to remove tweets critical of its handling of the virus, which it complied with.

Earlier this year, Twitter also reversed its blocking of a number of accounts following a request from authorities. The accounts were linked to ongoing farmer protests against agricultural reforms. If Twitter had not complied, it could have meant jail time for Twitter’s employees in India.

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