We value freedom, criticism because it is part of India’s democracy: Centre tells Twitter

New Delhi: The Centre on Wednesday (February 10, 2021) held a meeting with the micro-blogging platform Twitter over the removal of tweets and accounts using hashtag related to ‘farmer genocide’.

During a virtual interaction, the Union Secretary of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, told Twitter representatives, “In India, we value freedom and we value criticism because it is part of our democracy. India has a robust mechanism for protection of freedom of speech and expression that is very elaborately explained as Fundamental Rights under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India. But freedom of expression is not absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions as mentioned in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India. Various judgments of the Supreme Court have also upheld this from time to time.”

The Secretary held the virtual meeting with Monique Meche, Vice President Global Public Policy and Jim Baker Deputy General Counsel and Vice President Legal. 

It was in view of the order issued by the Centre directing Twitter to remove tweets and accounts using hashtag related to farmer genocide and accounts supported by Khalistan sympathizers and backed by Pakistan and blog post issued by Twitter on Wednesday morning.

The Secretary further highlighted that Twitter is welcome to do business in India. However, Twitter, as a business entity working in India, must also respect the Indian laws and democratic institutions. 

“Twitter is free to formulate its own rules and guidelines like any other business entity does, but Indian laws which are enacted by the Parliament of India must be followed irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines,” the official release by the Ministry of Electronics & IT said.

The statement added that due to India’s conducive business environment, open Internet and a firm commitment to the freedom of expression Twitter as a platform has grown significantly in India in the last few years. 

Secretary took up the issue of using a hashtag on ‘farmer genocide’ with Twitter executives and expressed strong displeasure on the way Twitter acted after an emergency order was issued to remove this hashtag and content related to that. 

“Spreading misinformation using an incendiary and baseless hashtag referring to ‘farmer genocide’ at a time when such irresponsible content can provoke and inflame the situation is  neither journalistic freedom nor freedom of expression as envisaged under Article 19 of the Constitution of India,” said the official statement. 

It added, “Despite the attention of Twitter being drawn to such content by the Government through a lawful process, the platform  allowed the content with this hashtag to continue, which was extremely unfortunate.”

The Secretary also reminded Twitter about the action taken by the micro-blogging platform during the Capitol Hill episode in the United States and compared that with the disturbance in Red Fort in India and its aftermath

He expressed dissatisfaction over Twitter’s differential treatment in the two incidents. 

“A deep sense of disappointment at seeing Twitter side not with ‘freedom of expression’ but rather with those who seek to abuse such freedom and provoke disturbance to public order, was conveyed to the Twitter representative,” added the official statement.

Secretary also mentioned that revelations around a certain ‘Toolkit’ has made it evident that a strong social media campaign was planned in a foreign country around farmers’ protest. 

“Misuse of Twitter’s platform for execution of such campaigns designed to create disharmony and unrest in India is unacceptable and Twitter must take strong action against such well-coordinated campaigns against India, through compliance with the applicable law of the land,” said the Ministry of Electronics & IT.

It added, “Lawfully passed orders are binding on any business entity. They must be obeyed immediately. If they are executed days later, it becomes meaningless. Secretary expressed his deep disappointment to Twitter leadership about the manner in which Twitter has unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay complied with the substantial parts of the order. He took this opportunity to remind Twitter that in India, its Constitution and laws are supreme. It is expected that responsible entities not only reaffirm but remain committed to compliance with the law of land.”

The Centre also conveyed to the Twitter leadership that the manner in which Twitter officially allows fake, unverified, anonymous and automated bot accounts to be operated on its platform, raises doubts about its commitment to transparency and healthy conversation on this platform.

“Twitter leadership affirmed their commitment towards following Indian laws and rules. They also expressed their continuing commitment towards building their services in India. They have also requested for better engagement between Government of India and Twitter’s global team,” the Ministry of Electronics & IT said.

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