Twitter moves Karnataka High Court, challenges Modi govt’s content takedown orders



Twitter moved the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday to challenge a recent Indian government order to remove content and block accounts. In its petition filed at the high court, the social media has accused government officials of abuse of power.

The petition is in retaliation to the threat of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY), Government of India, of initiating penal action against Twitter if the social media platform failed to comply with its directives for removing tweets and blocking accounts. The MeITY had warned that criminal action will be taken against the social media platform if the content-related orders were not followed.

The Union ministry had set a deadline of July 4 for the social media platform to comply with its orders. Indian authorities had also warned Twitter that if it fails to adhere to the directive then it may lose intermediary status, which would mean that the social media platform would be held liable for all comments posted on its platform.

On June 27 the government served a notice to Twitter to adhere to all content-related government orders that have been issued to date. This was not the first time this issue has cropped up. In May the micro-blogging platform had received a notice from MeITY in which Twitter had been asked to appoint a resident grievance officer, a resident chief compliance officer and a nodal contact person.

On Tuesday, the Union IT minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, told media persons at the sidelines of an event in Ahmedabad that not just in India but across the globe the need to hold social media accountable is palpable. He however refused to comment on Twitter’s petition in Karnataka HC.

Referring to social media as a “powerful medium” the minister added that social media sites have a huge influence on all our lives. He added that companies in all sectors should follow the laws of India. “To adhere to the laws of the land which have been passed by the Parliament is everybody’s responsibility,” he stressed.

Disagreements between Twitter and the Indian government are not new. Earlier too, Twitter had urged the government to respect freedom of expression while criticizing its tactics. The war of words ensued over the past year after the Indian authorities asked Twitter to take down content and block accounts of people who were supportive of an independent Sikh state and other tweets that were critical of the government on issues like dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Subsequently, on June 26 Twitter, in a document filed with the Lumen database, alleged that the government had asked it to block several accounts and some tweets from advocacy group Freedom House, journalists, politicians, and supporters of farmers’ protest last year. According to the document, the platform had blocked over 80 links, posts and several accounts on the directives issued by the Indian government.

Talking to New York Times, Apar Gupta, the executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation said: “It is telling how an international report about India’s press freedom rankings is responded to with censorship, rather than debate and discussion. It is an undemocratic and authoritarian response.”