Amid an intense face-off with microblogging platform Twitter, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, today told Parliament that strict action will be taken if social media is misused to spread fake news and fuel violence.
Specifically naming Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn in the Rajya Sabha, the Union Minister said "you have millions of followers in India, you are free to do business and make money, but you will have to follow the Indian constitution". He was speaking during Question Hour on the misuse of social media platforms.
"We respect social media a lot, it has empowered common people. Social media has a big role in Digital India programme. However, if social media is misused to spread fake news, violence then action will be taken," Mr Prasad said.
The Centre and Twitter have engaged in some sharp exchanges over the past few day over the issue of free speech and its legal limits in the country. Following the Republic Day violence, the government had asked Twitter to block over 1,300 handles in all for allegedly spreading misinformation and provocative content. These included accounts of journalists, activists, and politicians. Some of these persons now face police cases for the alleged crime.
Refusing the government, Twitter said these demands were inconsistent with Indian law. It, however, imposed restrictions on some of the accounts, though only within India.
The ruling BJP's leaders have, meanwhile, attacked the platform for allegedly refusing to abide by Indian laws.
The Centre's stance also comes in the backdrop of the "toolkit" controversy surrounding the ongoing farmer protest. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg had a few days ago tweeted a "toolkit" which she later deleted. This document, according to the police, aimed to spread disaffection and ill-will against the government of India and sought to create disharmony among various social, religious, and cultural groups.