Twitter may now directly be held responsible for every single tweet in India

Twitter may now directly be held responsible for every single tweet in India
Twitter CEO Jack DorseyIANS
  • Twitter’s failure to comply with India’s new IT rules has called its intermediary status into question.
  • Without the protection of being an intermediary, Twitter may be directly liable for all the tweets on its platform in India.
  • This means that any objectionable content could attract punishment under the Information Technology Act,2000 and the Indian Penal Code.
  • However, the new IT rules have been challenged by civil liberties organisations and other advocates for being unconstitutional.
Twitter’s failure to comply with the Indian government’s new IT rules has raised questions about its intermediary status in the country.

As an intermediary, Twitter is just the middle man. But, if it loses that protection, the platform could directly responsible for all the posts on its platform.

This means that if tomorrow the government decides that a particular tweet is not compliant with the law of the land, the social media platform will have to explain its role. In addition to the user who posted the tweet, Twitter itself could be liable for the content under the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the country’s penal laws.
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However, according to the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), the intermediary status of social media platforms is only a 'technical' qualification. According to Section 79 of the IT Act, Twitter and other intermediaries will still be immune from liability they comply with the legal takedown requests of user posts from courts and public authorities.

Moreover, organisations like the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and individuals like musician TM Krishna, have challenged the new IT rules for being unconstitutional. According to them, the new rules violate the fundamental rights of of Indian citizens like the freedom of speech, freedom to practice any profession, the right to privacy and others.

The IT rules notified by the government are unconstitutional. In the garb of addressing misinformation and regulating technology companies, GoI has been exceeding the powers granted through subordinate legislation and using it for political purposes as is evident from the recent Twitter fracas.

Mishi Choudhary, founder of SFLC, told Business Insider in a statement

The underlying assertion is that the new IT rules are not in line with the existing IT Act, 2000.

“We're keeping MeitY (Ministry of Electronics & IT) apprised of progress at every step of the process. An Interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the ministry directly soon. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with new guidelines,” the Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.

India’s new IT rules

US-based Twitter — along with Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and others — had until May 26 to meet the requirements of being a ‘significant’ social media intermediary in the country.

These ‘significant’ platforms, classified as those with more than 5 million users, are required to appoint a grievance officer, a nodal officer and a chief compliance officer (CCO). And the people occupying all three posts must be Indian residents.

Twitter had earlier stated that it was ‘concerned’ about the security of its employees in the country and the ‘intimidation tactics’ being used by the government — like visiting its offices, even though everyone was working from home, in order to deliver a notice.

Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy. Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India’s legal system.

The Indian Government’s letter to Twitter dated May 27

The Modi administration did not take kindly to the underlying assertions by the Jack Dorsey-owned firm. In a letter to Twitter last month, the government asked the social media platform to ‘stop beating around the bush’.

While Twitter and other platforms asked for an extension to comply with the new IT rules, the microblogging site was the only hold out as the May 26 deadline came and went. Twitter was also spotted putting out job offers for the positions of nodal officer and resident grievance officer online.

Twitter may now directly be held responsible for every single tweet in India
Twitter's posts for recruiting nodal officers and resident grievance officers in IndiaGoogle/BI India

One month later, it looks like Twitter finally has had to give in. The company has also been asked to appear before a Parliamentary Panel on June 18 over misuse concerns.

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