Twitter's decision to 'proactively' remove Prashant Bhushan's tweets opposed by internet rights body

Twitter's decision to 'proactively' remove Prashant Bhushan's tweets opposed by internet rights body
Twitter gets caught in the row between activist Prashant Bhushan and India's Supreme CourtBCCL
  • The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) wants Twitter to explain why it removed Prashant Bushan’s controversial tweets even though no legal request was issued to that effect.
  • According to the internet rights body, Twitter’s ‘proactively’ removal amounts to an impediment of the right to free speech and freedom of expression.
  • For Twitter, removing Bhushan’s tweet led to an acquittal from the case.
Twitter may have wrangled itself free from the clutches of India’s Supreme Court by removing activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s tweets from the social networking platform, but there are others who believe that the social networking giant has some explaining to do.

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), an internet rights body, has written to Twitter questioning its move to ‘proactively’ remove Bhushan’s tweets from the platform without any directive being issued to that effect by the courts. That too before any decision was made on whether Bhushan is ‘guilty of contempt’.

"Twitter is committed to defending and protecting freedom of expression in India and around the globe. Nonetheless, Twitter endeavors at all times to comply with local law and Twitter’s action in this case is consistent with local legal standard," the social networking platform said with respect to IFF's letter.
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Removing the tweets led to the Supreme Court acquitting Twitter from Bhushan’s case ruling that, “The intention of Twitter India would not be considered against the court.”

Others see it as an abuse of power. “By proactively censoring online content in the absence of any direction from a court mandating the same, Twitter’s actions in the case against Bhushan have set a dangerous precedent for free speech,” said IFF’s letter to Twitter.

Twitter jumps the gun
The Twitter feud in India stems from two tweets that Bhushan put out criticising the Chief Justice of India, Ashok Bhushan, and the Indian judiciary.

Twitter was called upon to explain why the tweets were not taken down. Defending Twitter India, senior advocate Sajan Poovayya, explained that necessary instructions need to be given to Twitter for them to take down the tweet. He added that the proper authority to address the issue lies with Twitter’s global office in California — not India.

“The issuance of notice by the Supreme Court does not amount to a determination of illegality in any way,” explains IFF’s letter.

However, before the second hearing, the tweets disappeared from the platform and was replaced with the message, “This Tweet from @pbhushan1 has been withheld in response to a legal demand.” This even as IFF asserts that no legal demand was filed.

“The removal of the actual tweets from Twitter’s platform does not serve any purpose except erasure of the historical record, especially in the absence of a clear and specific judicial direction requiring the same,” says the advocacy group’s letter.

The letter is led by Bhushan’s lawyer, Dushyant Dave and has a 100 signatories so far.

According to the social network's latest Transparency Report, India already ranks fifth-highest in terms of removal requests globally after Japan, Russia, Turkey, and South Korea.

Updated: Earlier version did not include Twitter's comment on IFF's letter. Countries ahead of India in terms of removal requests also was not included.

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