Twitter and The Government of India

Social Media Feb 18, 2021

Government of India versus Twitter face-off is the focus nowadays with the conflict now being escalated towards the Supreme Court. Numerous Indian accounts on Twitter were suddenly shut by the site last week but were ultimately brought back with a notice on the account saying the site is following a legal order. The Indian government seemed to have issued a direction to Twitter, ordering it to shut down user accounts connected with farmers' protests, but can they do that?

The government enacted this under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act to block user accounts critical of the farm bills and condemning the government for its conduct during the violent protests. Despite the accounts being censored, they were back online due to Twitter’s firm stand not to comply with the directions after a Constitutional appraisal and it has chosen to remain defiant and issued a public statement that the safety of its employees was a “top priority,” but that the “tweets must continue to flow.” This order presents a clear violation of fundamental rights but also discloses an intricate relationship between the government and wide-ranging platforms on the understanding of the Constitution of India. While the specific legal order issued is a secret, as per reports and observable behavior on the platform, these account suspensions are high and include various categories of users from farm unions, activists, and even a press publication. Several concerns have been raised regarding the secrecy built into Section 69A.

Secrecy also compromises the public's right to receive information, which is the central element of the fundamental freedom to speech and expression. But without disclosing the particular text of the legal orders, the owners of those accounts and therefore, the majority of the general public are left with incomplete information, all of which is an anti-democratic practice that leads to not only on unchecked growth of irrational censorship but also leads to speculation that fractures trust. Another most lacking fact is the absolute absence of any prior show-cause notice to the actual users of these respective accounts by the government. Which takes it back to the vagueness and the faults in laying out the process of how directions under Section 69A are issued. In other words, Twitter isn't ready yet to move the courts and legally challenge the blocking orders on behalf of all those affected by the February 1 ban, but it has left the option open only to protect its employees from being arrested.

Down the lane, ultimately Twitter won this, signifying the failure of the government in framing this process and the larger issues surrounding Section 69A would remain unsolved, and untouched.

This article has been written by Tania D'costa for The Paradigm

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