After Twitter on Thursday said it was concerned about the "potential threat to freedom of expression" and "core elements" of new digital rules, the government retorted that the social media giant should "stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land" instead of "dictating terms" to the world's largest democracy.
"Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land. Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what should India's legal policy framework should be," the Ministry of Electronics and IT said in an abrasive takedown, denouncing Twitter's statement as "totally baseless, false and an attempt to defame India".
On Twitter's comment expressing worry about its employees in India after the Delhi Police visited its offices on Monday, the government said it wished to "emphatically assure that representatives of social media companies including Twitter are and will always remain safe in India and there is no threat to their personal safety and security."
Asserting that India has a "glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices dating back centuries", the government said: "Protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of only a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter, but it is the commitment of the world's largest democracy and its robust institutions."
Twitter is trying to undermine India's legal system by its actions and deliberate defiance, said the ministry, also accusing the platform of muzzling free speech.
"The government of India respects the right of people to ask questions and also criticize on these social media platforms including on Twitter. The government equally respects the right of privacy. However, the only instance of scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people's accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily without recourse," said the ministry.
The government called out Twitter for not acting against tweets calling an India-dominant strain the "Indian strain" and those "promoting vaccine hesitancy".
Earlier on Thursday, Twitter had said it would "strive to comply with applicable law" but would ask for changes to "elements that inhibit free, open conversation".
Rules enforced on Wednesday require social media platforms to appoint a compliance officer in India, set up a grievance response mechanism and take down content within 36 hours of a legal order. WhatsApp has sued the government, saying rules are unconstitutional and against user privacy.
"To keep our service available, we will strive to comply with applicable law in India. But, just as we do around the world, we will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency, a commitment to empowering every voice on the service, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy under the rule of law," said a Twitter spokesperson.
"Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve. We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules. We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation," the company added.
Twitter is caught in a controversy after marking posts by BJP leaders on an alleged "Congress toolkit" as "manipulated media". The government last week asked Twitter to remove the tag. The Delhi Police visited Twitter India's offices on Monday evening to serve notice asking for an explanation.
Social media sites that fail to comply with the new rules will lose protection from lawsuits and prosecution as "intermediaries". This means they can no longer claim legal immunity from objectionable content posted by users.