Two representatives of Twiter appeared before the parliamentary standing committee for Information and Technology today where they faced grueling scrutiny over some of the microblogging platform’s recent policies and decisions. Earlier this month, the Centre issued a notice to Twitter giving it one last chance to “immediately" comply with the new IT rules and warned that failure to adhere to the norms will lead to the platform losing exemption from liability under the IT Act.
Twitter India’s public policy manager Shagufta Kamran and legal counsel Ayushi Kapoor deposed before the panel chaired by Congress’ Shashi Tharoor.
Sources told CNN-News18 that MPs from the ruling BJP did not mince any words as they conveyed to Twitter that the social media site was not above the law of the land. Members also warned that it may face hefty fines if violations continue.
“Does Twitter think their policy is above law?" the representatives were asked, according to a source privy to the development.
Twitter’s policy should be guided by the law of land, the platform was told,
to which they reportedly said, “We follow our own policies", adding that their policies were as important as the Indian government’s laws and that both are uncompromisable.
The rule of the land is supreme and not your policy, the parliamentary panel is said to have retorted.
The sentiment was echoed by all the MPs, including those from the Opposition parties. TMC leader Mohua Moitra also slammed the site for it’s brazenness.
Covid to blame
In a submission that baffled the entire government panel, the Twitter representatives said the Covid-19 pandemic was responsible for the delay in them following the regulations specified by India.
The government has asked Twitter to comply with intermediary guidelines and said it has lost its “safe harbor" protection in India over non-compliance with IT rules and failure to appoint key personnel mandated under the new guidelines.
As per the new IT Rules 2021 which came into effect on May 26, all significant social media platforms with more than 50 lakh users are required to have a larger grievance redressal mechanism which will include a Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident Grievance Officer. All social media platforms are required to publish these details on their apps and websites and explain to users the mechanism in place to make a complaint against any content on the platform.
These complaints need to be acknowledged within 24 hours of receipt and these complaints need to be actioned upon within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt.
Twitter and the Centre have been at loggerheads over several issues for the last few months. The microblogging site had faced backlash when it briefly removed the ‘blue tick’ verification badge from the personal account of Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu and of several senior RSS functionaries, including its chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Twitter representatives were also been questioned about their appointment process for the post of a compliance officer to which they said they will respond in writing and that they need to consult before answering because they are not the competent authority.
“Who is the competent authority?” they were asked.
In a statement after the hearing, Twitter said: “Twitter stands prepared to work with the Committee on important work of safeguarding citizens’ rights online in line with our principles of transparency, freedom of expression, & privacy. We will also continue working alongside the Indian Government as part of our shared commitment to serve and protect the public conversation.
Earlier, Delhi Police had sent a notice to Twitter, seeking an explanation of how it described an alleged “Congress toolkit" against the Central government as manipulated media. The police reportedly had also questioned Twitter India MD Manish Maheshwari on May 31 and visited the Twitter India offices in Delhi and Gurgaon on May 24 over the toolkit issue.
Twitter recently was also embroiled in a controversy as it branded BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet as ‘manipulated media’ over the alleged toolkit of the Congress party. The Indian government has stepped in and asked Twitter not to pass any judgment in the matter which was under investigation.
After losing out on any legal shell, now the government of Uttar Pradesh has also filed an FIR against Twitter along with a host of others including a journalist for sharing fake news relating to a man being assaulted in Loni in Ghaziabad.
(With inputs from Arunima)