The @PMOIndia Twitter mess: Should govt be held responsible for data erasure?https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/web-edits/pmoindia-twitter-mess-should-the-govt-be-held-responsible-for-data-erasure/

The @PMOIndia Twitter mess: Should govt be held responsible for data erasure?

PMOIndia on Twitter: Can the government delete tweets? Does it entail a deletion of government records?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's official Twitter handle @PMOIndia has over 12.5 million followers as of today.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official Twitter handle @PMOIndia has over 12.5 million followers as of today.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has once again landed itself in a Twitter controversy. This time, it’s about images reportedly tweeted from the @PMOIndia handle that showed villagers in Nagla Fatela, a village near the national capital, watching Independence Day celebrations on television where Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech, claimed his government has electrified that village. However, villagers claim the images are not of their village and they still don’t have adequate power supply. The tweet was then deleted by the Prime Minister’s account.

This, however, isn’t the first time that the government has ended up in a cyber mess. In December last year, the government’s nodal agency for communication @PIB_India tweeted out morphed images of the Prime Minister conducting an aerial survey of the Chennai floods. The government was then forced to take down the tweet, issue a clarification and take preventive action.

But what happens when government officials delete tweets? Are they permitted to delete tweets without issuing a clarification/correction? Are these deleted tweets archived? If all government records are to be archived as per law, and tweets from the PMO’s official Twitter handle does come under the IT Act as well as the RTI Act, then is the government guilty of destroying official records?

According to the Electronic Governance subsection in the IT Act 2000, the government needs to maintain all records so as to make them available for subsequent reference.

Here’s what the section reads:

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Where any law provides that documents, records or information shall be retained for any specific period, then, that requirement shall be deemed to have been satisfied if such documents, records or information are retained in the electronic form, if—

(a) the information contained therein remains accessible so as to be usable for a subsequent reference;

(b) the electronic record is retained in the format in which it was originally generated, sent or received or in a format which can be demonstrated to represent accurately the information originally generated, sent or received;

The question, however, remains on what happens if the information provided is inaccurate. Can we equate tweets from official accounts to hard copies of government documents that have been put out in the public domain? Or say to a government broadcast on national radio that reaches millions of people in the country? The PM’s official Twitter handle has over 12 million followers. Don’t they deserve a correction, if the government would otherwise do so on a different broadcast/publishing medium?

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A screengrab of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s twitter account that was archived.

In 2014, When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s term ended, tweets sent out by his administration were archived by the government under the handle @PMOIndiaArchive. While the Twitter handle no longer exists, all the tweets are now storified on the Prime Minister’s website under the title “Archival material under the RTI Act for @PMOIndia till 20/5/2014.”

The @PMOIndia Twitter handle then had in its description: “Pages may be archived under IT Act.”

Prime Minister Modi’s administration has put his ambitious Digital India project on fast-track, and rightly so. It’s high time government departments and agencies across the country move governance to digital platforms. But perhaps the government also needs to adopt stringent measures when it comes to disseminating information. Checks and balances need to be in place as the consequences of misinformation – reaching out to millions, within a few seconds, are huge.