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Twitter rubs India the wrong way again, triggering backlash

The Ministry of Electronics and IT today sent its final notice to Twitter over non-compliance of the new IT rules and has again warned of penal action in case the US-headquartered social media platform fails to comply to the norms

A day after Nigeria suspended indefinitely the operations of the microblogging and social networking service, Twitter, the platform got embroiled in a fresh controversy in India after removing the blue verified badge from the personal handle of M Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice President of India. However, after facing a massive backlash on social media, the platform restored the verification mark within a few hours.

Later in the day, the Union Ministry of Electronics and IT sent its final notice to Twitter over non-compliance of the new IT rules and has again warned of penal action in case the US-headquartered social media platform fails to comply to the norms.

The blue tick on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic.

While the official Twitter account of Vice President of India – @VPSecretariat – run by Vice President Secretariat, remains verified and active, the personal account of Naidu – @MVenkaiahNaidu having over 1.3 million followers – has remained inactive since the last tweet posted in July, last year.

In accordance with the Twitter terms of service, Twitter may remove the blue verified badge and verified status of a Twitter account at any time and without notice if the account becomes inactive for a long time.

Several netizens, meanwhile, pointed out many accounts, including that of late Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor, which still retains the blue badge even though the last tweet from the account was made more than 12 months ago.

Venkaiah Nadiu twitter

India has more than 1.75 crore Twitter users and the fresh controversy may further dent the relationship between India and the American microblogging and social networking service which has already suffered many blows in recent times. 

Amidst growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media and after elaborate consultation with the public and stakeholders, the Indian government had in February announced new stringent guidelines for social media platforms along with code of ethics for over-the-top (OTT) platforms and digital media.

Today's notice sent by the ministry noted that in view of Twitter Inc's non-compliance with the rules which came into effect on May 26, 2021, "consequences follow".

"However, as gesture of goodwill, Twitter Inc is hereby given one last notice to immediately comply with the rules, failing which the exemption from liability available under section 79 of the IT Act, 2000 shall stand withdrawn and Twitter shall be liable for consequences as per the IT Act and other penal laws of India," it said.

The ministry said that it is clear from the responses of the company that till date it has not informed about the details of the Chief Compliance Office as required under the Rules. Further, it also said that the Resident Grievance Officer and Nodal Contact Person nominated by the platform are not its employees in India as required under the new rules.

"The office address of Twitter Inc as mentioned by you is that of a law firm in India, which is also not as per the rules."

It said that the refusal to comply demonstrates Twitter's lack of commitment and efforts towards providing a safe experience for the people of India on its platform.

Earlier this month, the ministry had also sent a strongly-worded notice to Twitter for affixing the "manipulated media" tag to tweets by BJP leaders countering a toolkit put out by the rival Congress party to criticise the government. The ministry has asked Twitter to remove the "prejudicial" tag in the interest of “fairness and equity”.

When Twitter expressed concerns regarding the safety of its employees and “potential threat to freedom of expression” for its users in India, the Ministry of Electronics and IT last week condemned the "unfortunate statement", labeling it as totally baseless, false and an attempt to defame India to hide their own follies.

The government accused Twitter of dictating terms to the world’s largest democracy and seeking to undermine India’s legal system through its actions and deliberate defiance to comply with those very regulations in the Intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming a safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India.

"Twitter has a large user base in India, it earns significant revenue from its Indian operations but is also the most reluctant to appoint an India based grievance redressal officer and mechanism, chief compliance officer and nodal officer to whom its own users can complain, when they are subjected to offensive tweets," the ministry had said.

The government said that the only instance  of scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people’s accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily without recourse.

"Twitter needs to stop beating around the bush and comply with the laws of the land. Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what should India’s legal policy framework should be," the statement added.

It also detailed some recent examples to counter Twitter's claim of being committed to the people of India, including showing the geo-location of certain locations in the Union Territory of Ladakh as part of China at a time when both countries were engaged in peaceful resolution of border related issues through bilateral dialogue; failure to take prompt action and block contents that sought to incite violence during the unlawful incidents on Red Fort in Delhi and showing "lack of responsibility" which led to rampant proliferation of fake and harmful content against India and Indians such as promoting vaccine hesitancy which has been rampantly done through the use of platform.

"Twitter Inc., a USA based private company, in its communique says that it seeks "constructive dialogue", "collaborative approach" from the government of a sovereign democratic republic to "safeguard interests of the public". It is time that Twitter disabuses itself of this grandiosity and comply with the laws of India," the government said.

Twitter faces trouble worldwide

Nigeria's Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced Friday the suspension of Twitter citing the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining country's corporate existence.

Abuja also directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately commence the process of licensing all OTT and social media operations in Nigeria.

"We have a country to rule, and we will do so to the best of our ability. Twitter's mission in Nigeria is very suspect, they have an agenda. The mission of Twitter in Nigeria is very suspicious," the minister was quoted as saying earlier in the week.

Friday's move came after Twitter reportedly deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari who issued a warning to troublemakers in Nigeria.


Govt pulls up Twitter for ‘prejudicial’ manipulated media tag to political leader’s tweet

Nigerian govt accuses Twitter of double standards

Earlier this year, Twitter had permanently suspended the @realDonaldTrump account of the then US President. 

(With agency inputs)