On February 25, the Ministry of Electronics and IT laid down the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules 2021, to extend control over what is shared on different digital and OTT platforms.
A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been mandated. This includes the appointment of a Grievance Redressal Officer, a Chief Compliance Officer, and identification of the “first originator of the information” would be required in case of an offense related to the sovereignty and integrity of India. Complying with India’s new, stricter guidelines means that companies such as WhatsApp may have to put an end to their encryption policy. In February, the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, set a deadline of 25 May for compliance with the new rules.
Indian govt vs Twitter
January 26: A clash broke out between the Delhi Police and the protesting Sikh farmers, with hundreds of Twitter handles calling for violence against the Sikh community. Hateful messages included a repeat of the 1984 Sikh riots.
February 1: On the day of the Budget, Twitter had to block certain accounts on its platform following “a legal demand” from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY). These accounts covered the farmers’ protests and were critical of the Indian government The accounts included those of The Caravan and the Kisan Ekta Morcha.
February 2: After Twitter restored those accounts, the IT Ministry issued a notice to the platform for “non-compliance of directions,” issued under Section 69A of the IT Act, with regards to orders for removal of accounts related to the hashtag ‘farmer genocide’. Twitter, however, pushed back and said that the platform was still examining the situation.
February 10: In the midst of escalating tensions between Twitter and the Indian government, a virtual meeting with top officials of the social media company was held. The Indian officials referred to the “toolkit” that was shared by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg during the farmers’ protests. According to a press release by the government, Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary, MEITY stated that “lawfully passed orders are binding on any business entity” and “they must be obeyed immediately.” Twitter, however, continued to push back against a wholesale blocking of accounts, saying, “We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve.”
February 25: The Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules 2021, are laid out by the Indian government, with a 25 May deadline for compliance.
May 18: BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra had tweeted that the Congress Party created a “COVID toolkit” to tarnish India’s image and defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Toolkits are not alien to the Congress and their eco-system. Infact, a substantial part of their energy goes into making them. Here is a toolkit on the Central Vista…they make one Toolkit of the other every week and when exposed, they "deny" it. #CongressToolkitExposed pic.twitter.com/fsR8VZUOov
— Sambit Patra (@sambitswaraj) May 18, 2021
May 19: The Congress Party lodged a police complaint seeking registration of cases against Sambit Patra, BJP chief J P Nadda, Union minister Smriti Irani, and BJP general secretary B L Santosh over the forgery of documents.
May 21: Twitter labeled a tweet by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, calling it ‘Manipulated Media’. The tweet contained a document attributed to Congress. The Indian government asked Twitter to remove the ”manipulated media” tag as the matter was being investigated. The government further mentioned that the social media platform cannot pass judgment while the issue is under investigation.
In less than 24 hours, a team of Delhi Police special cells landed outside the Twitter India office in Delhi’s Lado Sarai and Gurugram area. The Delhi Police served a notice to Twitter India in connection with the ‘manipulated media’ controversy, asking them to share all the information they had around the documents shared by Sambit Patra. The notice was addressed to Manish Maheshwari, Managing Director, Twitter India. In the notice, Twitter India’s MD was asked to appear in the DCP office for investigation with all the relevant documents on May 22.
May 26: WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in Delhi against the Indian government seeking to block these regulations. Experts said that these new I.T. rules would also compel the parent company Facebook to break its privacy protections.
The case filed by WhatsApp asked the Delhi High Court to declare that the new IT rules were a breach of privacy rights laid down in the Constitution of India, protected by the Apex Court since the 2017 Justice K S Puttaswamy vs Union Of India judgment. WhatsApp as per the new rules would be forced to unmask people accused of wrongdoing by the Indian government, but the company is resisting the government’s “the first originator of information” demand, saying that it would violate its end-to-end encryption policy.
This lawsuit escalated problems for large tech companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Whatsapp.
May 27: Twitter expressed its concerns about the new IT rules. “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules. We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach,” Twitter said in a statement.
May 31: Twitter India’s MD Manish Maheshwari was questioned by the Delhi Police in connection with its probe into the ‘COVID toolkit’ case.
June 5: Govt issued “one last notice” to Twitter to “immediately” comply with the new IT rules and warned that failure to adhere to the new norms will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act.
June 16: The Uttar Pradesh government registered an FIR against Twitter, three Indian journalists, and The Wire, over an incident that took place in Ghaziabad’s Loni on 5 June, where an elderly Muslim man was allegedly assaulted. A video showing the elderly being thrashed went viral on social media. The FIR launched by the state government says that tweets were shared across the platform with the motive of “provoking communal violence” and “misleading” posts were re-tweeted by thousands. The UP govt says that the Ghaziabad Police “had put out a clarification” on the whole scenario via their official Twitter handle but the users did not delete the tweets and Twitter did not take any action on the removal of those messages.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in a series of tweets said, “What happened in UP was illustrative of Twitter’s arbitrariness in fighting fake news. While Twitter has been over-enthusiastic about its fact-checking mechanism, its failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing & indicates its inconsistency in fighting misinformation.” “It is astounding that Twitter, which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines.”
It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines.
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) June 16, 2021
June 16: Twitter said that it has appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer.
June 17: The Uttar Pradesh Police sent a legal notice to the Managing Director of Twitter India Manish Maheshwari regarding the viral video of the assault on an elderly man in Loni.
Ghaziabad Police sent legal notice to Managing Director of Twitter India over viral video of an elderly man in Loni being assaulted with the intent of "provoking communal unrest"
The MD has been asked to come to the Police Station Loni Border & record the statement within 7 days pic.twitter.com/u5Ct8Omq6l
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) June 18, 2021
June 19: Addressing a lecture organised by the Symbiosis International University, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the new IT rules are not related to the “use” of social media but deal with the “misuse” and “abuse” of social media platforms.
June 21: The Managing Director of Twitter India Manish Maheshwari had offered to join the probe in connection with the alleged assault on the elderly Muslim man in Ghaziabad, but virtually. The UP Police said that a video conference would not suffice and Maheshwari would have to come in person to the police station in Ghaziabad.
June 22: Twitter India restricted 50 tweets in connection with the alleged assault on the elderly Muslim man in Ghaziabad. “As explained in our Country Withheld Policy, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in response to a valid legal demand or when the content has been found to violate local law(s),” Twitter said in a statement.