🕹️Understanding Indian Govt's fight with Twitter
Does Twitter have the right to decide on freedom of speech?
After the violence in New Delhi on 26th January, the Indian govt cracked down on the anti-national elements that attempted to spread violence and unrest. The majority of the fake news spread was happening on Twitter, so the govt ordered Twitter to remove those accounts. Twitter obeyed the govt and removed those accounts.
This is where the problem began- among the accounts that Twitter banned, several of them belonged to journalists and news organizations.
Twitter came under intense backlash from democracy activists and free-internet activists. People accused Twitter of silencing free speech and promoting censorship. So the company did a 180 degrees turn and un-banned those accounts.
This created another problem- it angered the Indian govt. The govt even threatened to jail Twitter employees if the company didn’t comply with the govt orders.
Twitter found a middle-ground for this problem- To keep the govt happy, it removed more than 500 spam accounts. To keep the people happy, it didn’t remove the accounts of Indian journalists.
Clearly, this was a short-term solution. The real problem requires a much more comprehensive fix. But first, let’s understand this problem from the govt, as well as Twitter’s perspective.
🕹️Understanding the Govt’s perspective:
From the point-of-view of the govt, the issue is simple:
There were certain elements on Twitter that were spreading fake news.
The govt was afraid of a breakdown of law-and-order due to fake news.
To deal with such situations, Section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000 provides emergency powers to the govt.
Under this law, the govt ordered Twitter to remove certain accounts. But Twitter refused to comply with the legal order, and therefore disrespecting Indian sovereignty.
Twitter representatives met with Indian govt officials to discuss this issue. In a govt press release, the IT secretary said-
“Despite the attention of Twitter being drawn to such content by the Government through a lawful process, the platform allowed the content with this hashtag to continue, which was extremely unfortunate.”
“Secretary expressed his deep disappointment to Twitter leadership about the manner in which Twitter has unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay complied with the substantial parts of the order.”
“He took this opportunity to remind Twitter that in India, its Constitution and laws are supreme. It is expected that responsible entities not only reaffirm but remain committed to compliance to the law of land.”
This sums up the Indian govt’s argument-
Twitter shouldn’t have refused the govt’s order.
Twitter should respect Indian laws if it wants to operate in India.
🕹️Understanding Twitter’s perspective:
Understanding Twitter’s side of the story is a bit complex. We should remember 2 things-
First, Twitter is a private company. The company thinks about profit before taking any decision. Obeying the govt order seemed like a logical step for the company, but when the issue became international, Twitter had to think about its global image(Translation: global profits) before making a decision.
Second, such decisions carry huge weight for Twitter, as it is answerable to the international community for the decisions it makes in one country.
During the Arab Spring in 2010, Twitter refused to censor revolutionary tweets. The company explained the logic behind its decision in the famous blog post “The Tweets Must Flow”. There, the company said- “Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely”.
“Right to speak freely”- Free speech is the political ideology of the company. It has always seen itself as a promoter of free speech. This explains why it didn’t remove the accounts of Indian journalists and news organizations.
Twitter further explained its decision in a blog post-
“Out of these, two were emergency blocking orders that we temporarily complied with but subsequently restored access to the content in a manner that we believe was consistent with Indian law.”
This sums up Twitter’s argument- it believes in free speech, and the govt’s order violated free speech, so Twitter didn’t obey the order.
🕹️Does Twitter have the right to decide on free-speech?
In this instance, I believe Twitter did the right thing by not suspending the accounts of the journalists and news organizations.
But we can't always rely on a private company to decide what is right and what is wrong. This is the job of the govt and the judiciary, and they are the ones most qualified to decide on such matters. As I said earlier, the primary motivation for a private company like Twitter is profit, not the goodwill of people.
Even Twitter realizes that it cannot make tough decisions like this every time. That is why the company has been launching new initiatives like Birdwatch and Project Bluesky. These initiatives aim to remove the burden of making tough decisions from the company.
I hope you found this article insightful. Please share it with your friends.
And if you’re new here, please subscribe to this newsletter. As Jimmy Kimmel said- “It’s free anyway, who cares.”
And here is the comment button if you need it.