‘Twitter Can’t Assume Role of State’: Ban on US Tech Giant Demanded in India’s Top Court

Twitter has faced criticism from the Indian government – as well as many social media users – over arbitrarily blocking social media accounts while not complying with the government’s orders on censoring accounts which are “instigating violence”.

A number of Indian Twitter users have filed individual petitions in the country’s top court to demand the microblogging site is banned for “curbing” their freedom of expression, a lawyer for one of the petitioners told Sputnik on Wednesday.

Lawyer Pankaj Kumar, who represents banned Twitter account True Indology, has approached India’s Supreme Court, representing petitioner, Gaurav Gohad, a resident of Madhya Pradesh state.

Kumar is appearing with his senior colleague Gautam Jha.

Twitter India has appealed to the court to treat 24 complaints about “curbing freedom of expression” as a class action and in a response plea, Kumar has told the Supreme Court that not only has the California-based tech giant violated the provisions of Freedom of Expression stipulated in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, but it has also occasionally failed to comply with federal government orders.

“… Twitter India is a corporate entity… It cannot cross the line and assume the role of the state in blocking accounts. The implementation of its policies governing the use of its platform cannot be arbitrary and unreasonable,” Gaurav Gohad has stated in his plea.

Twitter is further accused of applying different standards when dealing with India, pointing to how promptly it suspended the account of former US President Donald Trump over allegations of inciting the crowd that ransacked US Capitol Hill on 6 January.

“However, the same level of commitment and alacrity were not shown by Twitter in blocking accounts of rogue elements during the attack on the Red Fort in India,” says the petition, referring to protests which took place on 26 January by farmers in Delhi against three new farm laws. On the day, a section of protesting farmers illegally entered the Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and rioted leaving hundreds of policemen injured. 

The plea also states that the Indian government has the power to order blocking of social media accounts under Section 69 of the Information and Technology (IT) Act.

In February, Twitter got into a spat with the Indian government over a request by the country’s authorities asking the microblogging site to suspend more than 500 Indian accounts behind the hashtag “farmer genocide” and those who are alleged to be sympathisers of separate Sikh state Khalistan.

The Indian authorities brought in Twitter’s vice-president (global public policy) Monique Meche and deputy general counsel and vice president (legal) Jim Baker after the site only partially followed New Delhi’s request. Twitter argued that taking down other accounts, some of them belonging to journalists, amounted to curbing their “freedom of speech”.

The American business was also at the time enjoying support from Joe Biden’s administration. 

Reacting to the row between Twitter and New Delhi, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said: “Well, I think what I would say generally is that around the world – and this goes back to what I was saying before – we are committed to supporting democratic values, including freedom of expression. I think, when it comes to Twitter’s policies, we’d have to refer you to Twitter itself.” 

Madhya Pradesh resident Gaurav Gohad and several others have also filed police complaints against Twitter India’s managing director Manish Maheshwari for suspending True Indology, an account known for popularising Hindu culture, according to the petition seen by Sputnik.

The popular social media account (True Indology) was taken down from Twitter last November, after its handler got into a heated argument with a government official over the use of firecrackers on the Hindu festival of Diwali.

True Indology, which argued that bursting crackers on Diwali was part of Indian religious tradition, attracted support from prominent personalities, including federally ruling BJP parliamentarian Colonel (Retd.) Rajyavardhan Rathode and Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut.

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