The UP fake news about the old Muslim man being beaten by “Hindutva extremists”, which was allowed to be spread by Twitter has raised another storm. Whereas the Yogi Adityanath government has filed a case against fake news spreaders as well as Twitter, the Information and Broadcasting Minister has released a statement against Twitter a while ago.
There are numerous queries arising as to whether Twitter is entitled to safe harbour provision. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May.
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) June 16, 2021
In his thread, Ravi Shankar Prasad mentioned that Twitter has failed to comply with the intermediary guidelines deliberately, even after multiple opportunities. He further said that the failure of Twitter to stop spread of fake news through its platform, and flagging manipulated media on tweets, only when it suits Twitter, is arbitrary. The minister gave example of Bharatiya companies, who follow rules of USA when they operate there and asked why Twitter is “showing reluctance in following Indian laws”.
Ravi Shankar’s Prasad tweets and the FIR lodged against Twitter by UP Police indicate that the social media platform has lost its intermediary status due to its non-compliance with the new IT guidelines.
Banning is not the solution
The tone of the statement does not indicate that government is going to ban Twitter from Bharat. Indeed, it shall be counter-productive at this time to ban the social media platform. Apart from the diplomatic and economic implications, it would give another issue to the opposition groups.
It should also be kept in mind that the confrontational attitude of Twitter seems to be part of a plan to present itself as a martyr in the cause of free speech. Twitter knows that its revenue and profit in Bharat is negligible and getting banned in Bharat would not hurt it financially. For reference, in October, 2019 Twitter’s revenue from Bharat was a paltry Rs. 56.9 crore, with profit being Rs. 5.8 crore. It is basically peanuts for a company having more than $1 billion (approximately Rs. 7500 crore) revenue. Indeed, it could mean a windfall for Twitter if global leftists unite and stand strongly behind the company and support it.
Instead, the government could take other, “softer” strategies to hit harder on Twitter. These steps may also ensure better compliance from Twitter, while hurting it financially.
The legal way
It seems proper that Twitter be treated to a taste of Bharatiya courts. Now that the shield protecting it as an intermediary is gone, government as well as private persons can hold it accountable for the content published on its platform. In such a situation, any objectionable post on Twitter can be taken to courts and theoritically Twitter might face hundreds of cases all over the country.
If a provision for paying penalty for such posts is brought in law, Twitter might have to pay a substantial amount in penalties in Bharat. It must be noted that penalties have been imposed on Twitter in France, Russia and many other countries. Apart from penalties, Twitter’s employees may be made personally liable for the content, in the manner a publication’s management is liable for content. This could lead to bigger problems for Twitter than just banning it.
The silent treatment
Another step that could be taken is to give a silent treatment to Twitter. Government could direct all its functionaries, from ministers to government officers, to stop using Twitter and shift all official communication to other platforms. As a large number of people have joined Twitter to communicate with government functionaries, it could seriously dent the active user base of Twitter.
Along with this, many political activists associated with ruling party could also shift to other platforms, leaving Twitter to be an echo chamber of anti government voices and making any meaningful conversation very difficult. This would also hurt the chances of Twitter to earn revenue from Bharat in any foreseeable future.
Making Twitter difficult to access
Just as Twitter throttles the reach of people it does not like and shadow bans them, government can use certain methods to throttle access to Twitter. It could make it longer to load Twitter and make users lose interest. As such, it is not prohibited and can be covered under section 69A of IT Act, which also empowers government to ban Twitter.
Ultimately, Twitter is a corporate company with shareholders who care about their investment. It does not take a genius to know that the key to make it comply with Bharatiya laws is to make their business costly enough to pain the shareholders. Such steps would not only bring Twitter to its senses, but might actually help in creation of a digital ecosystem that is Bharatiya in ownership and ethos.
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