Citing “short notice”, Twitter has declined to send its CEO or global executives to be present before the parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, which had summoned the social networking platform on February 11 to “examine” the issue of “safeguarding citizens’ rights on social/online news media platforms”.
The summons was over Twitter account-holders losing followers and accusations that the social networking site was suspending some handles, especially those voicing right-wing views.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Twitter said, “Given the short notice of the hearing, we informed the Committee that it would not be possible for senior officials from Twitter to travel from the United States to appear on Monday. Our CEO, Jack Dorsey, and other senior Twitter executives visited India in recent weeks because it is an important market for Twitter and we value the growing interest in Twitter in India.”
The statement added that the company could send representatives from Twitter India to appear before the panel “or to work with the Lok Sabha Secretariat to find more suitable dates so that a senior Twitter official can attend”.
“We want to reiterate that we not only have deep respect for India’s parliamentary process, we are also committed to serving the people who use Twitter in the Indian market,” it further said.
Sources said the letter from the committee to Twitter on February 1 asked for “representatives of Twitter” to attend the parliamentary hearings. On February 7, the request was changed to “the CEO or at least the next senior most functionary in the hierarchy”.
Government sources called Twitter’s response to the summons “cold”. “They don’t appear keen to participate in our proceedings,” confirmed a source in the parliamentary panel, adding that Twitter India officials “do not have enforcement authority”.
The source said Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s global lead for Legal, Policy, Trust & Safety, has written to the committee, saying, “No one who engages publicly for Twitter India makes enforcement decisions with respect to our rules for content or accounts in India.”
When asked about Twitter’s response, Anurag Thakur, chairman of the parliamentary panel, told The Sunday Express, “The committee has taken serious note of Twitter’s reply. We will discuss it and take further action on this in our meeting on Monday.”
BJP spokesperson and New Delhi MP Meenakshi Lekhi told reporters on Saturday, “In any country, no agency has the right to disrespect the institutions of that country. In this situation, if Twitter is disrespecting the established institution of Parliament, then there are repercussions… because in any democratic country, institutions need to be respected by world powers… Such things are not to be allowed in any country.”
Days before Thakur tweeted about his summoning of Twitter, around 20 people had met him with a document outlining alleged bias against right-wing voices on the platform, including accusations that Twitter disproportionally suspends accounts espousing right-wing views in India.
On Friday, the company reiterated that it is impartial and “does not take any action based on political views”.
Last year, Twitter came under similar fire in the US, especially involving “shadow-banning”. The controversy culminated in a US Congressional hearing summoning Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who denied accusations that Twitter’s algorithms discriminate against Republican voices.