India’s government says Twitter should be held liable for what users post
Twitter is in uncharted waters in one of its largest markets.
The social media company no longer has immunity over content posted on its platform by third parties in India, according to a court filing submitted Monday by the Indian government. The court has yet to weigh in on the matter.
The government’s assertion would mean Twitter can potentially be held legally liable for anything its users post on its platform, a departure from its previous protection as an “intermediary.”
According to the filing, Twitter has lost its protection due to non-compliance with the country’s new information technology rules, which came into effect in May this year.
The document was shared with CNN by a source close to the legal representatives in the case who is not authorized to give out information.
India’s strict new IT rules were released in February, and companies were given three months to comply. The rules require any social media company to create three roles in India: a “compliance officer” who will ensure it follows local laws; a “grievance officer” who will address complaints from Indian users about its platforms; and a “contact person” available to Indian law enforcement 24/7. They all have to reside in India.
According to the court filing, Twitter has failed to fill any of these three roles.
Twitter declined to comment on the court filing. The company has previously signaled its reservations with the new social media rules, though it has also said it remains “deeply committed” to India, which is among its largest markets.
“We have assured the Government of India that Twitter is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines, and an overview on our progress has been duly shared,” the company said in a statement last month. “We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government.”
According to the government’s court filing on Monday, Twitter had announced an interim grievance officer and contact officer, but both left their roles soon after. The company’s website now lists the name of an official under “Grievance Officer contact information for users in India,” but the executive’s address is in California, which “amounts to non-compliance with the IT Rules 2021,” the government said in its filing.
CNN Business saw the position of grievance officer advertised by Twitter on Linkedin.
Twitter has been in a high-stakes standoff with the Indian government since the beginning of this year. In February, the company clashed with the tech ministry after it ordered accounts to be taken down during mass protests by farmers. Twitter ultimately complied with some requests but refused to take action against accounts of journalists, activists or politicians.
In May, police turned up at Twitter’s office in New Delhi after the company decided to label a tweet from a spokesperson for Modi’s ruling party as “manipulated media.” Police said the routine visit was to get Twitter to cooperate with its investigation. The social media company blasted the move as “intimidation tactics” and said that it was “concerned” about the safety of its employees in the country.
Twitter has previously said it has concerns about “core elements of the new IT Rules,” and the “potential threat to freedom of speech” in the country. India’s IT minister, on the other hand, has accused the company of taking the “path of deliberate defiance.”
“Indian companies be it pharma, IT or others that go to do business in USA or in other foreign countries, voluntarily follow the local laws,” the minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Twitter in June. “Then why are platforms like Twitter showing reluctance in following Indian laws designed to give voice to the victims of abuse and misuse?”
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