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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Colin Crowell interview: ‘In close collaboration with Election Commission to act on issues in a timely fashion’

Colin Crowell appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology looking into “Safeguarding Citizens’ Rights on Social/Online News Media Platforms

Written by Karishma Mehrotra | New Delhi | Updated: February 27, 2019 7:03:52 am
Lok Sabha elections, Colin Crowell Twitter, Facebook, Election Commission, Whatsapp, election meddling, social media, Indian Express Colin Crowell, Twitter’s global vice-president of public policy.

A day after COLIN CROWELL, Twitter’s global vice-president of public policy, appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology looking into “Safeguarding Citizens’ Rights on Social/Online News Media Platforms”, he talks to KARISHMA MEHROTRA about the government’s complaints on communication with the platform, and about adapting company policies to specific countries.

What is the composition of Twitter’s new election team?

Russians (during the 2016 elections in the US) tended to use … a vulnerability that we had, which was the ability to game the platform through the use of automation. The so-called bots. And so we double-downed on technology to solve the problems that technology itself poses…. We’ve taken some of (these) proprietary tools (and) wrapped it into a team that’s focused on manipulation on the platform in coordinated ways. This is a team that is based globally… So (Twitter’s India public policy head) Mahima Kaul and her function here in India are also a part of this team .

Are the coordinated systems that political parties use to land on the ‘trending topics’ list included in the “unearned distribution of content”?

We will endeavour to make sure that tweets that are calculating toward the trending topics are one hashtag per account. So the games people would play, even organically, in the past are less successful today… Now if you’re a political party and you’re organised … if you get people who support the political party to tweet out (about a political issue) and that genuinely reflects Indian citizens , (then) it trends. But that also reflects what the country is doing right now.

Are there any plans to change the trust and safety policy for specific countries?

Last fall, we put out a proposed policy around dehumanisation, (which) looks at dispersions or insults towards particular categories of people based upon ethnicity, religious beliefs, and a variety of different things and it sought public input on that. The result of that might be that there are certain policies in India that take into account the cultural mores and sensitivities of India with respect to the dehumanisation policy that would not be necessarily applicable in the United states or somewhere else. So from that standpoint, you might see the fact that we have global rules but we also have rules that are bespoke or perhaps more pronounced in certain markets. It’s not done yet, but I hope it will be soon

There are stark differences between Twitter’s compliance rates with requests from India and the US government, with Twitter complying with 11 per cent of India’s information requests, and 76 percent of requests from the US. Any discussions to change the process?

The difference is that in the US, our established process is consistent with the fact that our user information is there and present, and we have an established process with warrants to convey user information to law enforcement authorities. In India, its pursuant to a process which is not Twitter’s invention, called the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT), with the government of the United States. We do get complaints about that and sometimes the complaint is about the MLAT process itself.

You get complaints from the Indian government?

Yes, and it might be that the process must go through the US Department of Justice, and sometimes that takes time.

Will Twitter be creating any new channels for grievances or a nodal officer?

We are certainly in close collaboration with the Election Commission … to make sure that as issues surface, we can act upon those in timely fashion. So making sure that we have personnel in position to do that, whether we call that a nodal officer, we’ll make sure we’ll have what the Election Commission needs.

What is a ‘timely fashion’?

We understand that the election commission is eager to make sure that is it able to effectively deal with us in those 48 hours where they have legal obligations here to make sure that people are not violating election law … That’s the 48 hour period and we are going to work with them within that time frame. The question of a nodal officer is different. We will have something appropriate and responsive to the Election Commission.

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