Twitter wrangles with Indian govt over staff safety, free speech

New Delhi, May 28 (KMS): Twitter Inc has said it was worried about the safety of its staff in India, days after police visited one of its offices as part of a probe related to the firm’s tagging of some ruling party posts as manipulated.

Leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party recently shared portions of a document on Twitter they said was created by the main opposition Congress party highlighting government failures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congress complained to Twitter saying the document was fake, after which Twitter marked some of the posts as “manipulated media”.

The Delhi Police, which is directly controlled by Modi’s government, on Monday visited a Twitter office to serve notice to the firm’s country head of a probe into the tagging of tweets.

“Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve,” a Twitter spokeswoman said in statement.

“We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service,” the spokeswoman added.

The social media giant’s statements drew strong criticism from the Delhi Police, which said the firm was refusing to cooperate with law enforcement.

“Twitter Inc’s latest statements are devised to seek dubious sympathy when they themselves not only refuse to comply with the law of the land but also claim to be possession of material evidence but refuse to share it with legal authority duly recognised,” the police said in a statement.

“Twitter India’s convoluted stance is similar to a deer caught in the headlights.”

India’s technology ministry also slammed the U.S. tech firm.

“The only instance of scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people’s accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily without recourse,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry assured the staff of Twitter and all other tech firms that their staff in India was safe.

It also asked Twitter to comply with Indian laws, adding that the tech firm’s statement was completely “baseless, false and an attempt to defame India”.

Twitter has been battling with the Indian government since February after the technology ministry asked it to block content alleging Modi’s administration was trying to silence criticism related to farmer protests in the country.

Following that showdown, India announced new rules that aim to make social media firms more accountable to legal requests for swift removal of posts.

On Thursday, Twitter urged the technology ministry to give it three more months to comply with the new regulations, which include the appointment of an Indian grievance officer to deal with complaints. The new IT rules have spurred legal battles, including a lawsuit filed by Facebook-owned WhatsApp this week which calls out India’s government for exceeding its legal powers by enacting rules that will force the messaging app to break end-to-end message encryption. — Courtesy Reuters

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