Twitter is stuck between a rock and a difficult place in India

Early last week, Twitter (TWTR) he allegedly suspended hundreds of accounts, including, at the behest of the government a handle supports more than 200 000 followers in the ongoing protest by farmers against new agricultural reforms, and another belongs to one of the most prominent journals in the country.
“In our ongoing efforts to make our services accessible to people everywhere, if the properly covered request an authorized organization may sometimes need to be denied access to certain content in a particular country, ”a Twitter spokesman said in a statement at the time.
The company restored the bills a few hours later after public outrage, but is now said to be under pressure from the authorities to block them again. The Indian Ministry of Electronics and Informatics has sent a notice to Twitter threatening its employees with up to seven years in prison, BuzzFeed News reports.

Twitter said it acknowledged receipt of the notification and had a “formal dialogue” with the Indian government.

“The safety of our employees is a top priority for us on Twitter,” the company’s spokesman told CNN Business. “We remain respected with the Government of India.” the spokesman added.

The GOI did not reply to several comments.

Who will blink first?

With more than 700 million Internet users, India is a huge and important market for global technology companies, albeit an increasingly uncertain market as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led by Prime Minister, seeks to tighten the grip on the Internet and social media.

The Modi government has previously clashed with platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp and proposed regulations that expand its online content policing capabilities. After diplomatic tensions with China, it banned TikTok and dozens of other applications last year escalated, and this he has called for a complete shutdown of the internet in several parts of the country to curb protests.
India cuts internet in New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police
Now Twitter is the latest company to hit the government’s crosshairs. The platform has become a leading path to public – and increasingly international – debate between adherents and critics of the Indian government’s agricultural laws. The company had about 19 million users in India last October, more than any country except the United States and Japan, according to research firm Statista.

“Civil society’s shrinking space is reflected in censorship and anti-democratic regulatory steps that censor users from their right to free speech,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of the Equality Labs advocacy group. “It’s time for the world to understand how much danger there is now, and for American companies like Twitter and Facebook to act before it’s too late.”

For the time being, Twitter seems to be standing its ground against the Indian government by actively keeping the accounts.

“We will review all reports received from the government as soon as possible and take appropriate action on such reports, while ensuring that we adhere to our core values ​​and commitment to protect the public debate,” the company spokesman said. “We believe that open and free information exchange has a positive global impact and tweets need to flow further.”

But if the government decides to make amends for its threats or exacerbate the situation, Twitter will have few good options left.

“There are two main risks: The first concerns Twitter’s Indian employees, who could be put at risk if the company doesn’t meet the demands,” said Jillian York, director of freedom of expression for the Electronic Border Foundation.

“The second risk is that Twitter will continue to reject and block in India. While this may be the right moral achievement, it is clearly not the best outcome for the people of India, many of whom receive the most important messages about relying on social media to what is happening on earth, “he added.

A man on Thursday in New Delhi, India, reads the tweets of Indian celebrities who are one of the Indian government’s supporters on his mobile phone.

Threading the needle

While Twitter and the Indian government are still at a dead end, both sides also need to address external scrutiny.

Social media companies have long faced pressure to do more against misinformation and hate speech on their platforms. And these issues, which are the subject of heated debate in the United States, often have additional and more sinister consequences in countries where companies have a smaller business footprint but a much greater impact.
Twitter has been more proactive in policing its platform in recent months, seizing thousands of accounts linked to QAnon’s conspiracy theory and banning one of the most prolific and controversial users – former US President Donald Trump. With this ban, Twitter has shown a willingness to apply its policy to the world leader who violates them, albeit towards the end of his time in office. India’s stand is also at the forefront of an important market leader in an important market.

“Jack has shown in the past that he can lead with his values,” Soundararajan said, referring to Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO.

But India, with more than three times the population of the United States and a very different social and political context, poses one of the most difficult challenges facing Twitter outside of its home country. In another apparent setback, the company also confirmed this week that India’s public leader, Mahima Kaul, will leave in April after more than five years. (Twitter doesn’t break down India’s user data, but third-party research says the country is one of the largest markets.)

“The fundamental problem is consistency … are they able to do the same contextual analysis as around QAnon, hydroxychloroquine posts, and Trump incitement?” said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine who was previously the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Opinion. “India is really a great example of how difficult this is.”

India, which bills itself as the world’s largest democracy, also needs to calibrate its response. Even as it fights Twitter, the Modi government is waging a perceptual battle with some of Twitter’s most prominent voices – the country’s State Department recently issued a statement “sensationalist social media hacking and commenting, especially when celebrities and others take advantage. “. after singer Rihanna and environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s tweets about farmers ’protests became viral.

“I think there is still a danger that Modi in particular will seem incapable of dealing with democratic principles such as the right to peaceful assembly, the right to protest, criticism, and so on,” Kaye said. “I think it will be interesting to see that the Biden government and other governments that are friendly with India but are in a democratic camp are really encouraging the government to take a different approach here.”

– CNN Manveena Suri and Esha Mitra contributed to this report.