The new social media rules set by the Government of India stirred up a storm when Twitter refused to accept them. While social media giants like Facebook and WhatsApp have accepted the law of the land, the microblogging site reignited the age-old fight of national interest versus freedom of speech, claiming that the new laws proved to be a threat to freedom of speech.
All social media giants with a presence in India were notified about the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules in February. Twitter refused to accept several guidelines issued by the Centre, and considered them to violate Indian and international law. These rules, according to Twitter, target very particular journalists or activists, etc. Now, it seems, Twitter is bearing the brunt of its boldness.
The new rules came into being on May 25, however, Twitter refused to accept them and appealed to the High Court regarding the insensitivity of the new guidelines. It was then that the court gave three weeks to Twitter to respond to the plea. It finally gave its decision on June 15 and stated that Twitter does not have the option but to comply with the Central government’s new rules for social media intermediaries since these have not been stayed by any court of law.
Future of Twitter in India
The court also explained that Twitter would lose its intermediary status and would not be protected from penal action under Section 79 of the IT Act, which releases social media firms of liability for third-party content if it does not accept the new rules.
Modi government recently has witnessed severe bashing on social media channels owing to its management during the pandemic. Users of microblogging site have come forward and presented facts and figures pointing towards the callousness and insensitivity showcased by the Modi government especially after the second wave hit the country. Since it’s an open platform, many came forward and displayed their anger.
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To filtrate and control the content that is posted on social media, the government has laid down new rules to ensure due diligence while also maintaining the sanctity of the channels. The Centre wants social media networks to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact person, and a resident grievance officer, who will be responsible for flagging inappropriate content. The social media channels will also have to provide details regarding the origin of a tweet or a message when asked by either a court or a government authority. .
Twitter was ensnared in this battle over free speech and other issues, which has affected its positioning in Nigeria. Nigeria has also decided to indefinitely block Twitter after the company deleted a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened a brutal clampdown on unrest in Africa’s most populous nation. The Nigerian government also ordered federal prosecutors to arrest users of the app.
Ban in Nigeria has added more fuel to the fire. Plus, the restrictions in India are now proving troublesome for Twitter. Even though Twitter has not yet started working on breaking down user data in India and Nigeria, it does have a large audience base and needs to captivate the 700 million Internet users for its growth.
For internet users in India, the debate around social media is not so much about freedom of speech but rather about a foreign company challenging the might of the Indian government. Thus, moving forward, Twitter will have to plan its steps carefully and will have to be extra cautious of its response to political pressure in these countries to ensure it does not deviate from its global expansion strategy.