Twitter today broke its silence on new digital rules in the middle of its clash with the government over the "Congress toolkit" row and flagged concern over "the potential threat to freedom of expression" and "the use of intimidation tactics by the police". In a sharply-worded statement, the social media giant said while it will "strive to comply with applicable law", it planned to ask for changes to elements in the rules "that inhibit free, open conversation".
This is the first time the micro-blogging site has spoken on the rules that 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 the rules are unconstitutional and violate user privacy.
"Twitter is deeply committed to the people of India. Our service has proven vital for the public conversation and a source of support for people during the pandemic. 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. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public."
Twitter has been on the radar of the government and the police after it marked posts by BJP leaders on an alleged "Congress toolkit" as "manipulated media". The government asked Twitter to remove the tag and the Delhi Police visited Twitter India's offices in Delhi and Gurgaon on Monday evening to serve notice asking for an explanation.
The new IT rules that took effect on Wednesday require sites to enable a complaint redressal mechanism and trace the "first originator" of information found to "undermine the sovereignty of India, security of the state, or public order".
Social media sites that fail to comply will lose protection from lawsuits and prosecution as "intermediaries". This means they can no longer claim legal immunity from objectionable content posted by users.
Facebook and Google have said they will ensure compliance. Facebook also says it wants to discuss some "issues which need more engagement".