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Is Twitter another East India Company?

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Kiran is a blogger and columnist. He has a passion in history and law ..

Twitter’s defiance to Indian laws and referring to Freedom of speech, intruding into Indian affairs reminds East India Company in 1700’s who came to India for Spice trade and slowly expanded their dominance in cotton and silk and even amassed its own army stationed in Bombay, Madras and Bengal. As their dominance grew in Indian Subcontinent, they slowly conquered each princely State and established full administrative powers on Indian territories and even imposed right to tax on people.

India after 72 years after independence from British is going through a similar situation from social media companies like Twitter dominating Indian politics and overtaking the decisions of democratically elected leaders and even judicial entities on what to do and what not to do citing Freedom of Speech. While, Twitter is purely business entity which has a its user base rose to 108% in 2019 and made a profit of 5.8 crore Indian rupees in 2019-2020. There is a need to regulate the unregulated internet content in the modern world. 

Recently, Indian Government have notified new digital ethics code in February 2021 with regulations on social media firms to curb the misinformation, distorted information, hate, bigotry, social disturbances, child abuses, sexual abuses etc. that threaten the sovereignty and integrity of India. The notification asked social media firms to comply with new ethics code to appoint grievance officers who should be available 24/7 with their details available on the portal and cooperate with law enforcement agencies. The Ethics code also asked social media firms to acknowledge the grievances within 24 hours of complaint and must resolve it within 15 days. The Social media firms also have to publish the compliance report every month as per the new ethics code. As business entities, these social media firms must follow the rule of land otherwise, these firms will lose the intermediary status which they enjoyed for years and will be liable for a criminal action. While, Facebook, Google & YouTube agreed to comply and sought some time to iron out some aspects with the government but Twitter defied the new regulations as direct attack on Free Speech.  

However, Twitter’s defiance to comply with India’s new digital ethics code citing Freedom of Speech and Expression on Internet was rebuked by Indian Government. “In a press statement released by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology strongly controverts the claims made by Twitter and said India has glorious tradition of Free Speech and democratic practices dating back centuries. Protecting Free Speech in India is not a prerogative of only Private entity for-Profit foreign entity like Twitter but it is the commitment of world’s largest democracy and its robust institutions.”  

The above statement is just part of a three-page rebuttal that had chided Twitter and its policies of dual nature. While assuring the safety of Twitter employees, it pointed out that regulations are needed to curb the misinformation and distorted news will have a dire effect on people that would lead to breaking of law and order. Government referred to Article 19(2) of India Constitution that clearly points out that Freedom of Speech is not Absolute and has reasonable restrictions. The rule of Land requires the business entity to follow regulations that are framed in India to safe guard the fundamental rights of its citizens and there is no Iota for business entities to dictate terms on India’s legal policy. 

While, Twitter claims it committed to people of India; Ironically the commitment it made was invisible on multiple times. Government in its response to Twitter cited the duplicity and shared some examples of their blatant non commitment to Indian people. 

  1. Twitter chose to show the geo location of Ladakh a union territory of India as a territory of People’s republic of China. It took days to remove the tweet and after multiple reminders from India. 
  1. While Twitter chose to take Suo moto action on users who it believed the perpetrators of Capitol Hill violence in US but refused to take action on twitter handles aftermath the violence happened at Red Fort India even after prompt request made by Government of India to block the contents that incites the violence on pretext of fake genocide plan. 
  1. Citing another instance, when certain twitter handles promoting rampant Vaccine Hesitancy campaign in India earlier this year, Twitter chose not to take any action on the vaccine hesitancy. 
  1. Highlighting Twitter’s discriminatory and racist behavior practiced on Indians and People of Indian Origin due to malicious tagging of B.1.617 double mutant with a name “Indian Variant” despite WHO’s strict guidelines against geo tagging. While, on a contrary, Twitter took immediate action against naming “Singapore variant”. This raises a serious concern if the Indian people are less important than Singapore or US? 

In another development, Twitter’s decision labeling India’s BJP spokesperson Dr. S.Patra’s tweet as manipulated media drew severe criticism from Delhi police who pointed out that if Twitter found an evidence of manipulated media; then it has to provide the evidence to Law enforcement authorities and cannot take the Law enforcement role in pre judging the tweet while the case is under investigation with a pending court’s trial and added Twitter is neither an investigator nor a judge but pretends to be both. As the digital ethics code came into effect on May 26th, Information and Broadcasting Ministry has given 15-day period to digital media publishers and Online streaming platforms to provide details of compliance.  

Note: Full text of Ministry of Electronics and IT can be found in its tweet:

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Kiran is a blogger and columnist. He has a passion in history and law ..
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