The Government of India has pulled up the Wall Street Journal for falsely reporting that the government has threatened employees of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter with jail term.
On 5th March 2021, citing sources, WSJ had reported that the Indian government has threatened employees of Facebook, its WhatsApp unit as well as Twitter with jail term as it ‘seeks to quash political protests and gain far-reaching powers over discourse on foreign-owned tech platforms’. The report claimed that the ‘warning’ came as direct response to the tech giants’ reluctance to taking down of data published on their platform which fuelled the violence in wake of ‘farmer’ protests.
“At least some of the written warnings cite specific, India-based employees at risk of arrest if the companies don’t comply, according to some of the people,” the report claimed.
However, in a sternly worded email, a copy of which is accessed by OpIndia, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY), said that the above article was not only factually incorrect but misleading. He said that none of the government communications, either written or oral, have ever threatened employees of these social media platforms with jail term.
“Therefore, with deep regret I wish to say that the conjecture of the Wall Street Journal is bereft of any fact and an attempt to defame the world’s largest open Internet economy which is thriving on account of innovative spirit of Indians and universal, easy and affordable availability of Internet,” the email said.
WSJ in its article claimed that the query sent to MeitY regarding the above allegations of threats of jail term remained unanswered. However, MeitY said that to the February 22, 2021 query by Newley Purnell, one of the co-authors of the above mentioned article, the government had sent a detailed response to Wall Street Journal.
The government had then replied that while there is no proposal to ban Twitter in India, it has been conveyed in the Parliament that the social media platforms are obliged to follow the laws of India and the Constitution of India, just as other businesses in India have to. “If social media platform is abused by a few to foment terrorism, violence, causes of terrorism, child pornography and a whole range of illegal activities then the social media platforms will have to be responsible,” the government had said.
The government had reiterated that social media users can criticise the government of India as well as Prime Minister of India but cannot promote violence, rampant communal divide and stoke the flames of terrorism.
“If Capitol Hill- the seat of American democracy was defiled by protestors then Social media platforms supported the Police action and prevented the protestors from using social media for communicating their views. However, in case of India there is a palpable double standard. When violent protestors attacked the Red Fort in Delhi- a symbol of India’s pride where all the Prime Ministers unfurl the National Flag on the Independence Day (15th August), then no action was taken by social media platforms including Twitter and the aggressors got coverage of their views and their consistent violent attacks on Policemen was ignored. This double standard is plainly unacceptable,” the government had said.
The government had said that India has third largest startup ecosystem in the world and if entrepreneurs are starting platforms like Koo, it only shows the rising technology potential of India.
However, in its article dated February 23, 2021, titled “Twitter’s High Hopes for India Waver Under Government’s Heavy Hand”, WSJ had only mentioned few lines from the response despite MEITY’s insistence that the views of the ministry be prominently highlighted. “Selectively mentioning only a very small part of the response is not only against the professional journalistic ethics but also raises several doubts about fair and balanced news reporting,” the government said.
Without mincing words, the government of India said that the recent guidelines only require the social media platforms to put in place a robust grievance redressal mechanism for the users. “The Government welcomes criticism and dissent. However, of late, repeated instances of abuse of social media to foment hate, discord and violence by terrorist groups from outside India and circulation of morphed images of women, revenge porn posing threat to the safety of users especially women users have become grave concerns,” the government expressed concerns over misuse of various social media platforms.
Calling out these platforms’ double standards on their reaction to incidents of violence in India and abroad, the MEITY said, “If vandalism and mayhem takes place at the Capitol Hill in Washington, social media platforms supports police action in containing that violence and rightly so. But when there is a violent attack on Red Fort in New Delhi- the pride of India’s freedom where Prime Ministers hoist the national flag on Independence Day, then some social media platforms give voice to the aggressors. This is unacceptable.”
The government put on record serious displeasure on the lopsided and fictional reportage by Wall Street Journal on this issue. “Falsely attributing to the Government the rumours of Jail term to employees of social media platforms when there is no such move, is nothing but fearmongering by the newspaper and hence deeply regrettable,” the government said. The government also expressed hope that going forward, WSJ would give adequate space to the response by the government so that the readers and other stakeholders get complete perspective.