Govt hardens stance on Twitter, Prasad says it must follow Indian laws

Government has told Twitter to delete 257 handles, saying its list is “non-negotiable” and that violation could result in arrest of its officials

Minister for Electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad has told Parliament that social media platforms must “obey Indian laws and the Constitution." File photo: PTI

The Centre on Thursday (February 11) made it clear to microblogging platform Twitter that it must follow Indian laws and help in stopping the spread of “fake news and violence.”

The government’s response came a day after it reportedly told Twitter’s top officials that they may face arrest over the government’s list of accounts with “inflammatory content.” Some of these accounts are said to belong to hashtag of farmers’ genocide.

Minister for Electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad told Parliament on Thursday that social media platforms must “obey Indian laws and the Constitution though they are free to have their millions of followers and earn from Indians through their services.”

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He said social media platforms have empowered the common people and has a big role to play in Digital India. “But if these platforms are misused to spread fake news and violence, the action will follow,” Prasad said during question hour.

The government has told Twitter to delete 257 handles, saying its list of handles is non-negotiable, though it has agreed to meet Twitter officials to discuss the issue.

Also read: Twitter partially bans flagged handles; says won’t muffle journos, activists

The Centre’s hardened stance came even as the US said that it is “committed to supporting democratic values and the freedom of expression”, though it sought to direct the matter to Twitter over the Centre’s persistent demand.

“We have withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders under the Country Withheld Content policy within India only. These accounts continue to be available outside of India,” Twitter said in a social media blog.

Twitter, however, has refused to block the accounts of “news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians” citing the need to uphold freedom of expression.

Also read: Mahima Kaul resigns as public policy head of Twitter India

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on Wednesday reportedly agreed to a virtual meeting with Twitter officials to discuss the issues.

The ministry has reportedly told Twitter officials not to maintain double standards, charging it with dragging its feet over the Red Fort violence. The government said the migroblogging platform had acted swiftly to block objectionable handles, including that of former President Donald Trump following violence at the US Capitol.

“Twitter cannot be the adjudicator on the Constitution of India and can take legal recourse on the government’s request to block handles. However, Twitter cannot make judgements on the government’s request to block objectionable handles,” the government has told Twitter.

The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology has told Twitter officials how it could claim to be “transparent” if it allows millions of bots to operate.

Sources said the government will promote the indigenous platform Koo against Twitter.

The co-founder of Koo has said the latest funding for the company “is led by a truly Indian investor.” Koo co-founder Aprameya R has told media outlets that a firm, Shunwei, which had invested in a vernacular question and answer sharing app ‘Vokal’ owned by the same company that runs Koo, “will be exiting fully”. Vokal had raised funds from China-based Shunwei Capital in 2018. Both Koo and Vokal are run by Bombinate Technologies Pvt Ltd, NDTV reported.

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