The fresh revelations made in a follow-up to the ‘Twitter Files’, that detailed how the platform curtailed the reach of some accounts, have been described as “disturbing” by the Indian government, with Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar calling the incident a “vindication of a very widely held view that all was not right” at Twitter.
He said the recently released amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Rules are “meant to deal with the possibility of this happening”, and that the government would consider tweaking the rules further if social media platforms “distort conversation on the Internet, which will not be tolerated going forward”.
“Twitter Files 2.0” came on the back of revelations released earlier this week on conservative podcaster Matt Taibbi’s substack, which was heralded by Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk as the “Twitter Files”.
The “Twitter Files” thread alleged that in 2020, during Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, Twitter actively censored a potentially damaging story about US President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, and his alleged dubious business dealings in Ukraine.
Twitter Files 2.0, which was published by former establishment journalist Bari Weiss, claimed the platform’s employees, prior to the sale of the company to Elon Musk, had comprehensive control over the visibility of users or posts, which they use to disproportionately target conservative or right-wing voices. This control is exercised through what employees call “Visibility Filtering’ (VF).
VF includes blocking searches about a particular user/post, limiting the scope of a tweet’s discoverability, and blocking certain users from trending or appearing in hashtag searches, among other methods.
Backlash in India
Chandrasekhar said the revelations around visibility filtering were “disturbing”. “The fact that a few people were distorting the conversations happening on the platform and weaponising misinformation is unacceptable,” he said.
India was right in pre-empting these issues and framing the amended IT Rules which were notified a few weeks ago, Chandrasekhar said. Under the amended rules, the government will appoint a grievance appellate committee that would have powers to oversee and overturn content moderation decisions taken by social media platforms. He said the formation of such committees will be fast-tracked in the light of the revelations.
Twitter Files have shown that “it is very obvious that safe harbours for Internet Intermediaries must be conditional on them following a set of rules as India has done,” Chandrasekhar said. Safe harbour essentially offers legal immunity to social media firms from user-generated content on their platforms.