New Delhi: In June alone, Twitter and its employees in India have seen at least four FIRs, one police notice, two instructions from the IT parliamentary committee regarding company policies, and requests both from India’s law enforcement and government to take some action on over 80 pieces of content.
All this has happened as the government starts applying pressure on the social media platform to comply with the new IT rules.
The Modi government’s relationship with the Silicon Valley company has been tense since the start of the year, when Twitter refused to implement requests for action against certain accounts amid the farmers’ protests.
Tensions have only increased — over Twitter’s “manipulated media” label for a post by some BJP leaders, over a video purportedly showing an elderly man being attacked in Ghaziabad, over certain provisions of the IT rules, besides a temporary suspension of Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s account over an alleged copyright violation, and an inaccurate map of India.
Earlier this month, Twitter lost its “safe harbour” protection in India, or legal immunity, over its failure to comply with the IT rules, which kicked in this February.
Among other things, it missed the 25 May deadline set by the rules to appoint personnel meant to serve as point persons for law enforcement and grievance redressal.
Twitter subsequently said it had appointed an interim chief compliance officer, and was in the process of establishing an “appropriate local office” before making permanent appointments.
From the first signs of pressure as the compliance deadline of the IT rules expired in the last week of May, to now, when Twitter faces several police cases, it has been a long journey. Here is how these past few weeks have played out:
21 May: Government asks Twitter to remove ‘manipulated media’ label from posts of certain BJP leaders alleging an orchestrated Congress attempt to defame the administration’s Covid response. The ‘manipulated media’ tag was used for a purported Congress ‘toolkit’ posted with the tweets.
24 May: Delhi Police Special Cell team visits Twitter offices in NCR to seek more information regarding the ‘toolkit case’. Police says it is looking into a Congress complaint about the toolkit and wanted to know what information Twitter had to label it ‘manipulated’.
4 June: Political cartoonist Manjul receives an email from Twitter, saying law enforcement has sought action against his account. No action has been taken on the request, it adds.
15 June: FIR filed by Ghaziabad Police names Twitter; case relates to a video posted on Twitter that users say depicts an attack by Hindus on an elderly Muslim man. It is later revealed that the attack may have had no communal angle. The FIR accuses Twitter and others of “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and race”.
17 June: Law enforcement asks Twitter to block 50 tweets in connection with the Ghaziabad assault case. The same day, Ghaziabad Police sends notice to Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari to join the probe.
18 June: At a meeting of the parliamentary IT committee, Twitter representatives say they follow “rules and regulations prescribed by Twitter”, to which the panel replies “law of the land [is] supreme”.
The panel of MPs had called representatives of both Twitter and the IT ministry to hear their views on the subject, “Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social and online news media platforms”, with special emphasis on women’s security in the digital space.
21 June: Government asks Twitter to take action against 37 tweets. The nature of content is not known.
28 June: UP Police files a second FIR against Twitter following a complaint from a Bajrang Dal office-bearer, who flagged a map on the Twitter Careers page that showed the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir as separate from the country. Maheshwari is booked in this case as well. Twitter removed the map the same day.
29 June: UP Police moves Supreme Court against a Karnataka High Court order restraining it from taking “coercive action” against Maheshwari in the Ghaziabad video case.
The same day, the Bhopal Police cyber cell in Madhya Pradesh also registers an FIR against Maheshwari for the same map. Another FIR is filed on the day by Delhi Police, based on a complaint by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), where Twitter is accused of allowing access to child pornography.
At another meeting of the parliamentary IT panel on 29 June, Twitter is asked to explain in writing why the accounts of IT Minister Prasad and the panel chairperson Shashi Tharoor were blocked.
On the day the block was reported (25 June), Twitter had said the IT minister’s account was blocked for violating US copyright laws. Tharoor claimed similar grounds were offered when he was denied access to his account.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)