Twitter Loses Legal Shield, Charged With "Provoking Communal Sentiments"

Twitter has not yet complied with all the provisions of the rules that came into force on May 25, sources in the Ministry of Electronics and IT said.

Earlier this month, the government had given Twitter a stern "last notice" to comply with the new rules.

New Delhi:

Twitter has lost its legal protection in India from prosecution over users' posts because of its failure to comply with new digital rules, government sources said today as a case was filed in Uttar Pradesh against the social media giant over tweets that the police say attempted to incite communal trouble.

Twitter has not yet complied with all the provisions of the rules that came into force on May 25, sources in the Ministry of Electronics and IT said. “Due to their non-compliance their protection as an intermediary is gone. Twitter can face liability for violating any Indian law just as any publisher is,” the sources said. Twitter has refused to comment on it.

The first case in which Twitter can face charges for third party content was filed last night in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad, in connection with an alleged assault on an elderly Muslim man on June 5.  Twitter has been accused in a First Information Report (FIR) of not removing "misleading" content linked to the incident.

The man, Sufi Abdul Samad, had alleged that his beard was cut off and he was forced to chant "Vande Matram" and "Jai Shri Ram" by a group that assaulted him. The UP police say he had lied and that it was not a communal incident as implied in tweets; the man was attacked by six people -- Hindus and Muslims – who were upset over amulets he had sold them, according to the police. The attackers had accused the man of selling fake talismans.

The police FIR charges Twitter, several journalists and Congress leaders for inciting “communal sentiments” with posts sharing the man's allegations. Tweets were shared with a clear motive to "provoke communal sentiments", says the FIR, and adds that the "misleading" posts were re-tweeted by thousands. The police also say they had shared a press release on the night of June 14 on Twitter giving details and refuting the communal angle but despite the clarification, the tweets were not deleted and Twitter did not act to have the tweets removed.

Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a series of posts on Twitter as well as its Indian rival Koo, gave a detailed explanation of the move against Twitter. He said Twitter was given “multiple opportunities to comply” but it deliberately chose non-compliance.

“It is astounding that Twitter, which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines. Further, what is perplexing is that Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to setting up process as mandated by the law of the land. Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging manipulates media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes,” Mr Prasad said.

“What happened in UP was illustrative of Twitter's arbitrariness in fighting fake news. While Twitter has been over enthusiastic about its fact checking mechanism, its failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing as well as points towards its inconsistency in fighting misinformation,” the Minister added.

He said in a country with varied culture like India, “with the amplification of social media, even a small spark can cause a fire, especially with the menace of fake news”.

“India's commitment to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech was yet again reaffirmed at the G7 summit. However, if any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, such attempts are misplaced,” Mr Prasad wrote.

Twitter had initially expressed concern about what it called “the potential threat to freedom of expression” when the new rules came into effect last month. Earlier this month, the government had given Twitter a stern “last notice” to fall in line.