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‘Law of the land supreme’, parliamentary panel tells Twitter over non-compliance of IT rules

Twitter has been given two weeks to respond in writing to questions raised by the panel that included those on the 'Congress toolkit' incident and the Ghaziabad assault case.

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New Delhi: Members of the parliamentary panel on information technology, headed by Congress Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor, told Twitter Friday that the “law of the land is supreme” and that the micro-blogging site will have to abide by them if they operate in India, MPs who attended the meeting told ThePrint.

Twitter has drawn flak from the central government for its failure to comply with India’s new IT guidelines, issued in February.

Twitter officials, who were questioned by the MPs for over 90 minutes, told the panel that the delay in compliance was because of the pandemic.

“MPs wanted to know how other social media platforms managed to comply with the IT rules within the deadline set by the government. Representatives from Twitter could not give any answer to this,” one of the MP, who attended the meeting, said.

The parliamentary panel 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.

Twitter has been given two weeks to submit their response in writing before the parliamentary panel when it meets again.

The social media giant has been involved in a face-off with the Centre over a host of issues in recent months including its failure to comply with the new IT guidelines.

Also read: Child rights panel accuses Twitter of ‘lying’, violating POCSO Act, files FIR

Officials questioned over ‘manipulated media’ tweet

The parliamentary panel members also asked Twitter representatives why the social media platform should not be fined for non-compliance with guidelines and for violating the rule of the land where they are working.

“When asked about the policy they follow in India, Twitter representatives told the MPs that they follow the rules and regulations prescribed by Twitter. To which members said that in India, they will have to follow the rule of the land,” the MP quoted above said.

The parliamentary panel members also asked Twitter officials on what basis do they take action on content posted on their platform.

“Some MPs, especially from the BJP wanted to know on what ground Twitter had tagged BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet on a ‘Congress toolkit’ on Covid handling as ‘manipulated media’, but failed to take action against fake content in the recent Ghaziabad case,” the MP said.

The MP added that members also asked Twitter officials how much power officials in India have, regarding important policy decisions. Twitter’s senior manager (public policy) Shagufta Kamran and Twitter India legal counsel head Ayushi Kapoor had attended Friday’s meeting.

In the Ghaziabad incident, Twitter has been blamed for not removing content that allegedly provoked “communal sentiments” in a case related to the assault of an elderly man in the district. Earlier this week, the Ghaziabad Police booked Twitter, along with some journalists and Congress leaders for the tweets.

The BJP members also reportedly questioned the credibility of fact-checkers appointed by the social media firm and said that they are biased against the Modi government.

“Twitter representatives told the members that they won’t be able to comment about any particular account or case and sought time to respond in writing,” the second MP told ThePrint.

A Twitter spokesperson later told ThePrint: “We appreciate the opportunity to share our views before the Standing Committee on Information Technology. Twitter stands prepared to work with the Committee on the important work of safeguarding citizens’ rights online, in line with our principles of transparency, freedom of expression, and privacy.”

The spokesperson added: “We will also continue working alongside the Indian Government, as part of our shared commitment to serve and protect public conversation.”

Also read: Social media ‘twisted’ facts on Covaxin containing newborn calf serum, says health ministry

Root of the trouble

Twitter has been in the eye of the storm since is failure to comply with the new IT rules. This included appointing a compliance officer by 26 May to address grievances. With the government not relenting, the social media giant Tuesday said that it has appointed an interim chief compliance officer.

Twitter also came under criticism recently after it removed the blue tick that indicates a verified account, from the personal twitter handle of Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu and senior RSS officials including Mohan Bhagwat.

Before this, Twitter had also drawn flak from the Centre for tagging Patra’s tweet in which he had alleged that Congress had prepared a toolkit targeting the government’s Covid handling as “manipulated media.”

On 24 May, the Delhi Police’s Special Cell had raided Twitter India offices in Delhi and Gurgaon, in the ‘Congress toolkit’ case.

(With inputs from Regina Mihindukulasuriya)  

Also read: What Twitter, Facebook & social media firms could stand to lose if they miss IT Rules deadline


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