• Kshitija Yadav

Twitter vs. IT Rules, 2021: The Blazing Controversy

Turning the pages of newspapers to swiping over the internet, we all have witnessed several controversies; and the most recent is between Twitter and the Government of India. Although, the antagonism persisting between Twitter and the Government is not something new, however, this time, the controversy is concerning the new IT Rules[1] which came into effect on May 25, 2021. The battle is between the national interest on one side and freedom of speech on the other, even though, the intent carried by both the parties is the same i.e., an intent to protect users.


The new IT Rules required the social media intermediaries to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, Nodal Contact Person, and Grievance Officer, all being Indian residents and to publish periodic compliance reports every month mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken. The new IT Rules further, required significant social media intermediaries to deploy technology-based measures, including automated tools or other mechanisms to proactively identify information that depicts any act or simulation in any form depicting rape, child sexual abuse or conduct, whether explicit or implicit; identify the first originator of the information, and to remove content within thirty-six (36) hours after an administrative or legal order is issued[2], failure to do which would amount to the imposing of criminal liability on their employees. Even though platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. complied with the new policies within a week of its enforcement, Twitter failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines, alleging that the new social media rules pose a ‘potential threat’ to freedom of expression. Resultantly, on June 29, 2021, Twitter lost the position of being an ‘intermediary’, thereby losing ‘safe harbor’ protection provided to the intermediaries under Section 79[3] of the Information Technology Act, 2000[4]. Accompanying the loss of legal immunity by Twitter, four cases were lodged against it. In the first instance, the immunity granted to Manish Maheshwari by the Karnataka High Court from the responsibility of a viral video visualizing the assault of an elderly Muslim man by some Hindu men was challenged by the Uttar Pradesh Government in the Supreme Court[5]. Furthermore, the Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police lodged a case for child pornography following a complaint by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.[6] In addition to this, two cases were lodged concerning the publication of the wrong Indian map.[7]


However, it was not just the non-compliance of the new IT Rules by Twitter, but certain other things added up to the blazing fire of controversy between Twitter and the Government of India. Adding of ‘manipulated media’ tag on Sambit Patra’s tweet by Twitter[8], the disappearance of the blue tick badge from Vice President M Vankaiah Naidu’s Twitter account[9], blocking of then Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s account[10] are some of the controversial incidents that added up to the war.


The main concern of the social media intermediaries behind this controversy was that the new IT Rules imposes a threat to the privacy policy of the users, and are against the Constitution. Twitter is specifically concerned about the ‘freedom of expression’. In these years, Twitter has evolved itself to be a platform that welcomes all manner of political debate. The imposing of new IT Rules would give the Government the power to demand taking down of any content from the site which seems to be objectionable, and it is, therefore, Twitter was opposing the IT Rules. However, the Government was of the view that such rules were necessary to encourage the social media intermediaries to self-regulate and control the wide-sharing of media that defames people including women and children on the internet.


In spite of the persisting controversy, Twitter took a step towards complying with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media ethics Code) Rules, 2021, and published their inaugural report on July 11, 2021, for the reporting period from May 26, 2021, to June 25, 2021, in compliance with the Rule 4(1)(d)[11] of the new IT Rules. Twitter also appointed Vinay Prakash as its Resident Grievance officer and provided email addresses of the same. Moreover, Twitter is still on its way to completely comply with the new IT Rules and at the same time concerned about the freedom of speech and expression.


__________________________ [1] Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 [2] Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, r. 3(1)(d) [3] Information Technology Act 2000, s. 79 [4] Neha Alawadhi, ‘Twitter lost immunity for non-compliance with IT Rules: Centre to HC’ (Business Standard July 2021) <https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/twitter-has-lost-immunity-for-non-compliance-with-it-rules-centre-tells-hc-121070501076_1.html> accessed on July 11, 2021 [5] Special Correspondent, ‘Ghaziabad police to send another notice to Twitter in Elderly Man Assault Case’ (The Hindu June 2021) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ghaziabad-police-to-send-another-notice-to-twitter-in-elderly-man-assault-case/article34881152.ece> accessed on July 13, 2021 [6] Jignesh Sinha, ‘FIR against Twitter after child rights body flags porn on Platform’ (Indian Express June 2021 <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/fir-against-twitter-india-under-pocso-it-act-for-links-material-on-child-sexual-abuse-7381444/> accessed on July 13, 2021 [7] Mustafa Shaikh, ‘Twitter not alone in showing wrong map of India, experts question 'selective' FIR’ (India Today June 2021) <https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/twitter-not-alone-in-showing-wrong-map-of-india-experts-question-selective-fir-1821128-2021-06-30> accessed on July 13, 2021 [8] Special Correspondent, ‘Twitter flags Sambit Patra’s tweet on Congress ‘toolkit’ as Manipulated Media’ (The Hindu May 2021) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/twitter-flags-sambit-patras-tweet-on-congress-toolkit-as-manipulated-media/article34611486.ece> accessed on July 14, 2021 [9] ANI, ‘Twitter Briefly Removed Verified Badge From Vice President Venkaiah Naidu's Personal Account’ (Gadgets 360 June 2021) <https://gadgets.ndtv.com/social-networking/news/twitter-venkaiah-naidu-verified-blue-badge-removed-personal-account-government-2456836> accessed on July 14, 2021 [10] PTI, ‘Twitter blocks Ravi Shankar Prasad’s account for 1 hour over ‘violation’ of US Copyright Laws’ (The Print June 2021) <https://theprint.in/india/twitter-blocks-ravi-shankar-prasads-account-for-1-hour-over-violation-of-us-copyright-laws/684528/> accessed on July 14, 2021 [11] Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, r. 4(1)(d)




*The author of this post is Kshitija Yadav, a law student at University of Lucknow, Lucknow. She can be reached at kshitijayadav0@gmail.com.


Image Source: Cause Inspired Media

Article Number: 2021/LNLR/07B19

 

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