Indians in the diaspora worry about media freedom
India Government’s ongoing battle with global social media giants Twitter and Facebook has taken a dramatic turn. The India Police Special Cell squad stormed Twitter’s offices in the national capital state of Delhi and Gurgaon on Monday night. The Police wanted more information about Twitter’s rationale to label one of the tweets by ruling partly BJP spokesperson as “manipulated media.”
An hour into the search attempt, the Delhi Police Special Cell team, which investigates terrorism and other crimes, vacated Twitter’s offices because they were closed and there were no Twitter employees to engage with at the premises. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment to local reporters.
New Delhi sent a notice to Twitter last week after the social network labeled a tweet from Sambit Patra, the spokesperson of India’s ruling party BJP, as “manipulated media.” In the tweet, Patra had claimed that Congress, the leading opposition party in India, was using a so-called “toolkit” to derail the Indian government’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic. Alt News, a leading fact-checking organization in India, had debunked Patra’s claim.
Delhi Police visited Twitter’s offices to serve them a notice of the inquiry. In a statement, the police said Twitter India’s managing director’s replies on the subject had been “very ambiguous” and unacceptable.
This latest dramatic move also comes at a time when Twitter and Facebook are inching closer to the deadline to comply with India’s new guidelines to regulate social media. In a new notice to both firms, the Government had warned that “failure to comply with IT rules could lead to loss of status and protections as intermediaries.”
Last month, the Indian authorities had ordered Twitter and Facebook to take down posts that were critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has drawn widespread criticism around the world. Facebook and Twitter have also found themselves in this storm.
A Twitter spokesperson had earlier observed that “noting that every institution worldwide is experiencing a significant trust deficit, Twitter is working to earn the trust. We intend to make our content moderation practices more transparent, give people more controls to moderate their interactions, enable a marketplace approach to relevance algorithms, and fund an open source social media standard we call @bluesky.”
Twitter usage in India grew by over 74% in 2020, making India probably the fastest growing market for Twitter in the world. With over 24.45 million, it is surpassed only by the USA and Japan. India therefore represents a strategic market for Twitter. How the social media giant walks the thin line between profits and responsibility will become clearer in the months ahead.
There are almost 1.4 million Indians in Canada and they form the second highest immigrant population in the country. They will also be watching with great interest the latest face-off between Twitter and their home government.