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Twitter puts its own rules above Indian laws and refuses to block media accounts despite inciting violence, minister RS Prasad refuses to meet its officials

Article 19 does not allow people of the press or any other profession to make any statement that can result in violence, contrary to claims made by Twitter

Twitter has decided to brazen it out and put its own rules above Indian laws and refused to withhold or suspend accounts that have been accused of inciting violence in the country. In a series of tweets and a blog, Twitter tried to explain its stand on not taking action against provocative tweets by certain verified individuals.

Twitter cited freedom of speech and expression as per the Indian Constitution for news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians for refusing to take action against the offending accounts.

Interestingly, the Indian Constitution’s Article 19 that serves freedom of speech and expression does not specify press or associated persons as separate entities. The laws in India consider every citizen equal, unlike the US.

The microblogging giant claimed, “The values that underpin the Open Internet and free expression are increasingly under threat around the world.” Twitter claimed that it exists to provide a platform to everyone so that their voices are heard irrespective of their views and perspective. One may think if it is the same company that recently blocked sitting President of the United States, Donald Trump’s account, claiming that he had caused Capitol Hall violence.

Twitter claimed to have taken action against hundreds of accounts

In the statement published on its blog, Twitter said that since January 26, 2021, its global team took action against hundreds of accounts that were in violation of the Twitter rules. It said that they:

  • Took action on hundreds of accounts that violated the Twitter Rules, particularly inciting violence, abuse, wishes of harm, and threats that could trigger the risk of offline harm
  • Prevented certain terms that violated our Rules from appearing in the Trends section
  • Suspended more than 500 accounts that were engaging in clear examples of platform manipulation and spam
  • Tackled misinformation based on the highest potential for real-world harm, and prioritized labeling of Tweets that were in violation of our synthetic and manipulated media policy.

Notably, they took action according to their policies, if their statement is to be believed. They may or may not have considered the law of the land, that is India.

Steps were taken by Twitter against Government’s request to block specific accounts

Twitter further said that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India, under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act served several separate blocking orders on the last 10 days. The accounts that the Government have requested to withhold or block also contained accounts of media outlets, news agencies, journalists, activists and some high profile leaders. Twitter further added that two of these were emergency blocking orders that the company temporary complied with. However, they reversed the action taken and restored the accounts. When they informed MeitY about their actions, they were served with non-compliance notice.

This is where Twitter went on and discussed the importance of ‘free speech’ and claimed Indian Law does not allow blocking of accounts. It said:

  • We took steps to reduce the visibility of the hashtags containing harmful content, which included prohibiting them from trending on Twitter and appearing as recommended search terms.
  • We took a range of enforcement actions — including permanent suspension in certain cases — against more than 500 accounts escalated across all MeitY orders for clear violations of Twitter’s Rules.
  • Separately, today, we have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under our Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India. Because we do not believe that the actions we have been directed to take are consistent with Indian law, and, in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law. We informed MeitY of our enforcement actions today, February 10, 2021. We will continue to maintain a dialogue with the Indian Government and respectfully engage with them.

Twitter confused the United States’ Constitution with Indian Constitution

According to the White House’s website, “The First Amendment provides that Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Here, they have specifically mentioned the ‘press’ in the Constitution, giving media houses free hand to say whatever they want without worrying about the consequences of their actions. The First Amendment’s free speech clause for the press has increased penetration of Fake News in the United States, resulting in mistrust and even violence.

Now coming to Article 19 of the Indian Constitution [PDF] that talks about the freedom of speech and expression. Article 19, section 1(a) states, “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” Moving further, Section 2 of the same Article states, “Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of 4 [the sovereignty and integrity of India,] the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.]”

That means though the Indian Constitution allows freedom of speech to everyone, irrespective of caste, race, location, age, sex, political views, etc., there are restrictions. The free speech does not allow anyone to make any statement that can disrupt public order or result in incitement to an offence. That means, Article 19 does not allow people of the press or any other profession to make any statement that can result in violence.

The statements made by the accounts mentioned in the notices sent by MeitY were involved in spreading fake news and misleading public. For example, Rajdeep Sardesai, The Caravan and other media outlets had spread misinformation about the death of a rioter named Navreet Singh Hundal and claimed he was shot by the police. Despite clarification by the police and related authorities, these portals continued to spread the misinformation.

Government denied request of dialogue

According to sources in the ministry, the Government has turned down the proposal to have dialogue from Twitter. Union Minister of IT & Telecom, RS Prasad, has refused to meet Twitter officials.

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OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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