India’s IT minister has cautioned US-based tech firms amid an ongoing face face-off with Twitter over content linked to the farmer protests in New Delhi.
Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Ravi Shankar Prasad told Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and WhatsApp that they are free to operate in India but must obey India’s laws.
“You will have to follow the Constitution of India, you will have to abide by the laws of India,” he said.
Comparing Twitters coverage of the 6th January riots at the US Capitol and an incident at New Delhi’s Red Fort on 26th January, which saw protesting farmers occupy the ramparts of the iconic landmark, Prasad slammed Twitter for its “double standards”.
“During Capitol Hill, you stand with the police action and in violence at Red Fort, you take a different stand,” Prasad said.
The previous day, India had rebuked Twitter after the micro-blogging platform refused to comply with an order to ban 1,178 accounts posting content with ‘farmer genocide’ hashtags.
The government alleges that the accounts are spreading misinformation on farmers’ protests. In a 5-page legal order, issued to Twitter last week, they declared that the content was “designed to inflame passions, hatred and factually incorrect.”
Though the tech giant has blocked hundreds of accounts, it has not supsended those of media entities, activists or politicians.
According to a blog on Twitter’s website, it has “tackled misinformation based on the highest potential for real-world harm”, suspended 500 accounts and taken action against those “inciting violence, abuse, wishes of harm and threats”. However, it noted that “a portion of the accounts” identified by the blocking orders have been witheld in India alone and are “ vailable” outside the country.
Twitter has “not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians,” it said.
“To do so, [Twitter believes], would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”
“We will continue to advocate for the right of free expression on behalf of the people we serve,” the blog concluded.
At a meeting with senior Twitter executives, Monique Meche and Jim Baker, on Wednesday, India’s IT secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney demanded the removal of “patently offensive” twitter accounts.
Later that evening, the government expressing “disappointment” and questioning Twitter’s commitment freedom of expression.
“A deep sense of disappointment at seeing Twitter side not with ‘freedom of expression’ but rather with those who seek to abuse such freedom and provoke disturbance to public order, was conveyed to the Twitter representative,” it said.
The months-long farmer protests were sparked by a series of agricultural reforms that would loosen laws around sale and pricing of farming goods. Farmer produce previously guaranteed by a government price floor can now be sold to anyone for any price.
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has said this would increase competition and “unshackle our farmers” giving “ them new rights and opportunities”. However, protesters fear that the ne las would