Twitter said it was concerned about its employees in India and with the potential threat to freedom of expression just days after its offices were visited by police officials and a letter issued by the government to ensure compliance on its new social media rules.
The statement issued on Thursday is the company’s first official response to events that transpired on Tuesday, May 25 evening, when officials from the Delhi Police’s Special Cell or its elite anti-terror wing reached the company’s offices in Delhi and Gurugram to serve a notice.
The company pushed back against the Indian government, raising concerns about the use of what it called “intimidation tactics” by the police, when it was trying to enforce its own terms of service and certain provisions of India’s new social media rules.
The visit by the police team was after the company had labeled a tweet by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief spokesperson Sambit Patra and others as “manipulated media” — media content that Twitter believes is “significantly and deceptively altered”.
However, according to Delhi Police’s press officer Chinmoy Biswal, the police’s visit to Twitter’s offices was a “routine process” and the officials had gone to their offices only to serve a notice about their investigation related to the ‘toolkit’ that was shared by BJP spokesperson Patra and was flagged by Twitter as “manipulated media”.
We have reached out to Manish Maheshwari, Twitter India’s managing director for his comments on his employees’ safety and Twitter’s compliance with India’s IT Rules, and will update the story when he responds.
On Wednesday, the information technology ministry wrote to all social media companies asking them details about their compliance status with the social media rules. The deadline to comply with the rules was May 25.
In its statement, a Twitter spokesperson said that the company will continue to have a “constructive dialogue” with the Indian government in order to facilitate what it called “free, open public conversation” on its platform.
“It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public,” the spokesperson said.
However, according to Twitter, the requirement to make an individual—the compliance officer—criminally liable for content on a social media platform, as prescribed under the new rules, is particularly concerning.
In a press statement, the information technology ministry said that Twitter’s remarks are an “attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy”. “Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India’s legal system,” the ministry said.
“Twitter has a large user base in India, it earns significant revenue from its Indian operations but is also the most reluctant to appoint an India based grievance redressal officer and mechanism, chief compliance officer and nodal officer to whom its own users can complain, when they are subjected to offensive tweets,” the ministry said.
Twitter is requesting the information technology ministry to give the company a minimum of three months to implement the rules completely, and is urging for it to publish standard operating protocols on the procedural aspects of the social media rules for public consultation.
With an active user base of 17.5 million users in India, Twitter is a significant social media intermediary under India’s new social media rules, which were notified in February 2021.
Update: The story was updated with the information technology ministry’s comments.