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‘Better communication’ with Govt: Twitter to ‘restructure’ India team

During the meeting, Twitter executives informed the ministry that they had taken action on about 95% of the content and accounts flagged by the officials, and that they would verify and remove the rest of the disputed content as well.

Written by Aashish Aryan | New Delhi |
Updated: February 12, 2021 11:59:13 am
On February 4, Twitter was asked to take down 1,178 accounts with links to Pakistan and Khalistan supporters that were spreading misinformation and provocative content related to farmers' protest.

Twitter has extended a commitment to “restructure” its India team and assign more senior executives to its local offices so that it can better handle legal compliance-related issues, senior government officials told The Indian Express.

Executives from Twitter agreed to some structural changes at a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) Wednesday, sources said. The ministry pushed for these changes as part of its effort to “better manage communications” between the Government of India and the global team of Twitter.

Asked specifically whether Twitter had agreed to the said structural changes in its top management in India, a spokesperson told The Indian Express that the company had “no comment to share”.

On Wednesday, Twitter’s vice-president of global public policy Monique Meche and the platform’s deputy general counsel and vice-president, legal, Jim Baker, had met senior officials of the IT Ministry to explain why the micro-blogging platform had not blocked certain content despite the government’s notices on the same.

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While multiple concerns have been raised by the government on Twitter’s “failure” to comply with its orders, officials indicated that the most “objectionable” from their perspective was the social media company’s lack of willingness to act on multiple posts that used the word “genocide” regarding the handling of the farm protest.

“A term genocide cannot be casually thrown around. Most of the tweets that we flagged (on January 31) to Twitter had a mention of the word along with provocative images, which had nothing to do with India. Their (Twitter) failure to act upon it was like sitting on a tinderbox waiting to explode,” said a senior IT Ministry official who attended the meeting.

“Twitter cannot be the judge, jury and executioner of what it thinks its interpretation of the Indian laws is. If they had a problem with the notices we sent, there are adequate redressal mechanisms for that,” another senior official who attended the meeting said.

During the meeting, Twitter executives informed the ministry that they had taken action on about 95% of the content and accounts flagged by the officials, and that they would verify and remove the rest of the disputed content as well.

Earlier, on January 31, exercising its powers under Section 69 of the IT Act, the MeitY had passed an emergency order asking Twitter to block 257 accounts. The ministry had in its notice said that these handles were “spreading misinformation” about the farmers’ protest, which had the potential to “lead to imminent violence affecting public order situation in the country”.

Twitter had subsequently blocked the accounts and their access for some time, but reversed its ban on some of the users, citing that these accounts did not violate its policy of free speech.

On February 4, the IT Ministry had issued a fresh notice, seeking the blocking of nearly 1,200 accounts, asking it to either suspend or block them in India.

In a blogpost on Wednesday, Twitter had reiterated its stand that the accounts it had not blocked, either on January 31 or after the February 4 notice, were “consistent with their policies on free speech” and said the platform believed “that the notices sent to it were not consistent with laws in the country”.

The blogpost had also listed the action taken on the ministry’s notices, saying it had “suspended more than 500 accounts” and “withheld a portion of the accounts identified in the blocking orders” of the MeitY. It also said that it had not “taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians” as it “would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law”.

Wednesday’s meeting saw the IT Ministry compare “action taken by Twitter during the Capitol Hill episode and… the disturbance in Red Fort” and how the two had been vastly different.

“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 ministry said following the meeting.

At the meeting, officials also raised the issue of a ‘toolkit’ being shared on Twitter regarding the farmer protest, including by activist Greta Thunberg, and how the misuse of the platform could “create disharmony and unrest in India”. A case has been registered by the Delhi Police over the ‘toolkit’, including charges of sedition.

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