The government on Wednesday expressed “strong displeasure” about Twitter’s response to the emergency order to block more than a thousand accounts for alleged spread of provocative content and misinformation on the farmer protests. As a business entity working in India, Twitter “must respect” the Indian laws and follow them “irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines”, the government said, making it clear that Twitter should block the accounts immediately.
“Lawfully passed orders are binding on any business entity. They must be obeyed immediately. If they are executed days later, it becomes meaningless,” the ministry said.
Citing its crackdown on accounts after last month’s violence at Washington’s Capitol Hill, the government also told Twitter that the “differential treatment” it provided to India and the US is “deeply disappointing”.
The meeting between Electronics and IT ministry and the Twitter representatives — Monique Meche, Vice President Global Public Policy and Jim Baker, Deputy General Counsel and Vice President Legal — took place after the social media platform snubbed the government over its request to block 1,178 accounts.
In its response, Twitter had said the government’s orders were inconsistent with Indian law. The microblogging platform also said it would restrict access within India for some accounts instead of an outright ban.
Twitter has suspended over 500 accounts, and blocked access to several others within India while refusing to block accounts of “news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians” citing the need to uphold freedom of expression.
In a communique late in the evening, the IT ministry said Twitter was told that under the Indian constitution, freedom of speech is not absolute but is subject to certain restrictions as mentioned in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India.
Pointing out that various judgments of the Supreme Court have also upheld this from time to time, the government said, “Twitter is welcome to do business in India – Twitter, as a business entity working in India, must also respect the Indian laws and democratic institutions. Twitter is free to formulate its own rules and guidelines, like any other business entity does, but Indian laws which are enacted by the Parliament of India must be followed irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines”.
The government also expressed deep disappointment to the Twitter leadership about the manner in which the platform has “unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay complied with the substantial parts of the Twitter was reminded about the action it took after the Capitol Hill episode in the US and compared that with the disturbance in Red Fort in India and its aftermath.
The ministry secretary “expressed dissatisfaction over Twitter’s differential treatment in the two incidents,” the government said.
“A deep sense of disappointment at seeing Twitter side not with ‘freedom of expression’ but rather with those who seek to abuse such freedom and provoke disturbance to public order, was conveyed to the Twitter representative,” the communique read.