The relationship between Twitter and the Indian government continues to worsen, after the firm was accused of deliberately not complying with new rules.

This is according to India’s technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, who on Tuesday tweeted that the platform has chosen “the path of deliberate defiance” when it comes to following new internet regulations, the Independent reported.

It should be noted that India’s new rules came into force in May, but digital activists are concerned the new rules will curtail online free speech and privacy in India.

Indian allegation

India’s new rules (called Intermediary Guidelines) seek to regulated content on social media firms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter etc.

It seeks to make these platforms more accountable to legal requests for the swift removal of posts and sharing details about the originators of messages.

Social media firms and tech giants also have to remove content within 36 hours after an administrative or legal order is issued, under the new rules.

And to make matters worse, their staff can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s requests.

The rules also require big social media companies to set up grievance mechanisms for law enforcement complaints, and appoint new executives to co-ordinate with law enforcement.

Twitter had initially expressed concern about what it called “the potential threat to freedom of expression” when the new rules came into effect late last month.

Law of the land

But India is standing firm.

“If any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, such attempts are misplaced,” Prasad said in a series of tweets.

Twitter was quoted by the Independent as saying in a statement Tuesday that it was making every effort to comply with the new regulations.

The company said it had appointed an interim chief compliance officer in India, a requirement under the new regulations, and will soon notify India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

India’s Prasad also accused Twitter of bias and said it was labelling some content as manipulated media, “only when it suits its likes and dislikes.”

Indian clashes

Last month Indian police visited Twitter’s office in New Delhi, over its labelling of a tweet by a governing party spokesman as “manipulated media.”

Twitter hit back and labelled the visit as a police ‘intimidation tactic’ and reportedly said that it is now concerned for the safety of its staff in the country.

It is fair to say that tensions have been growing between Twitter and the Indian government over the past few months.

In February Twitter refused an official request to remove over a thousand accounts from its platform.

The Indian government Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested that San Francisco-based Twitter remove more than 1,100 accounts and posts, which it alleged were spreading misinformation about widespread protests by farmers against new agricultural laws.

However, Twitter refused, saying a government order to remove some accounts was not consistent with Indian law.

But in late April Twitter did remove a number of tweets critical of the Indian government’s response to a new wave of Coronavirus infections that engulfed the country, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Critics are concerned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is trying to silence criticism, including of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Twitter is widely used by Prime Minister Modi, his cabinet ministers and other leaders to communicate with the public.

Twitter is not the tech platform clashing with the Indian government.

In May WhatsApp filed a lawsuit against the Indian Government, arguing that the new rules that require it to make messages “traceable” to external parties are unconstitutional and undermine the fundamental right to privacy.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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