For some months, Twitter has been questioned by the government of India for the content that it allows publishing on the platform. In February 2020, the authorities ordered the platform to delete "content that encourages insurrection" under the threat that its employees could go to jail. And the tensions between both parties have only increased as the company lost the protection of liability against the content, which means that it will be responsible for what its users publish in that country.
According to information from outlets like Engadget, Twitter no longer enjoys liability protection against user-generated content in India. The government announced the measure in a court filing this week arguing that the US social network does not comply with new local TI rules, which were released in February and took effect at the end of May.
And it is that the Indian court, and not the Indian government, has the power to decide whether Twitter can maintain its safe harbor protections, meaning that the platform is not responsible for what its users post or share online. Under this protection, for example, if someone insults another on Twitter, the person can ask the company to remove the publication, after going to court and obtaining an order, but the platform is not legally responsible for the injury.
However, without the protection, Twitter, which according to mobile information firm App Annie has more than 100 million users in India, is responsible on paper for everything those users say on its platform.
The reason that the authorities are giving to remove this protection from Twitter is that, unlike other companies such as Google or Facebook, it has not complied with all the IT rules that, among other elements, oblige social media platforms with more than 5 million users in India, to remove content within 36 hours of a legal notice and use automated processes to remove offensive material. Additionally, they must appoint three full-time executives, who must be residents of India, to comply with regulations, complaints and work in coordination with law enforcement.
The court emphasized that Twitter has not met any of these requirements and that its decision has nothing to do with an act of censorship. “All social media platforms are welcome to do business in India. They can criticize me, the prime minister, or anyone. The problem is the misuse of social networks. Some of them say that we are subject to American law. You operate in India, you make a lot of money, but you will take the position that you will be governed by American law. This is clearly unacceptable, ”India's IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told a conference last week.
With the liability protection removed, Twitter executives in India could face multiple criminal charges for content deemed objectionable on the platform. The Indian police have already brought at least five cases against the company or its officials in the country for a number of cases, including some involving child pornography and blasphemous content.
It was even reported that a special Delhi police squad made a surprise visit to two of Twitter's offices in late May, which many perceived as an intimidation tactic. Twitter said at the time that it was "concerned by recent developments involving our employees in India and the possible threat to the freedom of expression of the people we serve."
In the response from the tech company, they also asked the Indian government to give it an additional three months to comply with the new IT rules, adding that it intends to comply with the rules.