NEW DELHI (AP) – It began in February with a tweet from pop star Rihanna sparking widespread condemnation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s treatment of mass farmers’ protests near the capital, sparking an already troubled relationship between the government and Twitter.
Moving to control the backlash, officials cracked down on Twitter with multiple orders to block hundreds of posts critical of the government. Twitter obeyed some and resisted others.
Relations between Twitter and the Mod government have been declining ever since.
At the heart of the block is a comprehensive internet law that puts digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook under direct government oversight. Officials say the rules are needed to quell misinformation and hate speech and give users more power to mark off inappropriate content.
Critics of the law worry it could lead to outright censorship in a country where digital freedoms have been curtailed since Modi took office in 2014.
Police have attacked Twitter offices and accused its chief in India, Manish Maheshwari, of spreading “communal hatred” and “damaging the feelings of Indians”. Last week, Maheshwari refused to be questioned unless police promised not to arrest him.
On Wednesday, the company released a transparency report indicating that India had submitted most of the government requests for information – legal requirements for account information – on Twitter. It accounted for a quarter of worldwide demand in July-December last year.
It was the first time since Twitter began publishing the report in 2012 that the U.S. moved as the “leading global searcher,” he added.
“India ‘s plans for the Internet seem to be like those of a closed ecosystem like China,” said Raheel Khursheed, co – founder of Laminar Global and Twitter, the former head of Politics, Politics and Government in India. “The Twitter case is the basis of a touchstone on how the future of the internet in India will be shaped.”
Technology companies are facing similar challenges in many countries. China has aggressively tightened controls on access to its $ 1.4 billion market, which has already been largely seized by the Communist Party’s Great Firewall and US trade and technology sanctions.
India is another heavyweight, with 900 million users expected by 2025.
“Every internet company knows that India is probably the largest market in terms of scale. Because of this, the option to leave India is like the button they would press if they no longer had the opportunity,” said the technology analyst. Jayanth Kolla.
The new rules, in place for years and announced in February, apply to social media companies, broadcast platforms and digital news publishers. They make it easier for the government to order social media platforms with over 5 million users to remove content that is considered illegal. Individuals can now request companies to remove the material. If a government ministry deems content to be illegal or harmful, it must be removed within 36 hours. Non-compliance can lead to prosecution.
Technology companies should also assign staff to respond to complaints from users, respond to government requests, and ensure overall compliance with the rules.
Twitter missed a three-month deadline in May, drawing a strong rebuke from the Delhi Supreme Court. Last week, after months of bargaining with the government, she appointed all three officers on request.
“Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new IT 2021 Rules. We have kept the Government of India informed of progress at every step of the process,” the company said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, says he worries that the rules will lead to numerous cases against internet platforms and prevent people from using them freely, leading to self-censorship. Many other critics say Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is imposing what they call a climate of “digital authoritarianism.”
“If it becomes easier to remove user content, it will be an online speech cooling,” Gupta said.
The government insists the rules will benefit and empower the Indians.
“Social media users can criticize Narendra Modi, they can criticize government policy and ask questions. I have to register it right away. … But a private company sitting in America has to refrain from lecturing on democracy,” he said. users of the right to compensation, former IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told The Hindu newspaper last month.
Despite the antagonisms between Modi and Twitter, he has been an enthusiastic user of the platform in building popular support for his Bharatiya Janata Party. His government has also worked closely with the social media giant to allow Indians to use Twitter to seek help from government ministries, especially during health emergencies. Bharatiya Janata Party social media team has meanwhile been accused of launching online attacks against Modi critics.
However, previous internet restrictions had led Washington-based Freedom House to rank India, the world’s most populous democracy, as “partly free” instead of “free” in its annual analysis.
The law announced in February requires technology companies to assist police investigations and help identify people who post “bad information.” This means that messages need to be traceable, and experts say this could mean that end-to-end encryption will not be allowed in India.
Facebook’s WhatsApp, which has more than 500 million users in India, has sued the government, saying the hacking, which continues for now, “would severely undermine the privacy of billions of people communicating digitally.”
Officials say they only want to track down messages that incite violence or threaten national security. WhatsApp says it cannot do this selectively.
“It’s like renting an apartment to someone, but you want to see it whenever you want. Who would want to live in such a house? said Khursheed and Laminar Global.
Opposition to online freedom of expression, privacy and security concerns comes amid a global push for more transparency and data localization, said Kolla, a technology expert.
Germany demands that social media companies dedicate themselves to local staff and data storage to curb hate speech. Countries like Vietnam and Pakistan are drafting legislation similar to that of India. In Turkey, social media companies respected a broad mandate to remove content only after they were fined and faced threats to their advertising revenue.
Instead of leaving, some companies are fighting the new rules in the courts, where at least 13 legal challenges have been posed by news publishers, media associations and individuals. But such cases can last for months or even years.
Meat Choudhary, a technology lawyer and founder of the Software Freedom Legal Center of India, says under the rules, social media platforms can lose their secure protection, which protects them from legal liability for user-created content. . The courts must decide that case by case, she said. And their legal costs will inevitably increase.
“You know how it is in India. The process is punishment,” Choudhary said. “And until we get to a place where the courts will come and tell us what the legal position is and define those legal positions, it is the open season for tough technological reactions.”