India wants Twitter to help with government censorship

Posted on July 11, 2022

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On Tuesday, Twitter said it had sued the Indian government on the grounds that it had interpreted a series of laws dating back to 2021 too broadly by ordering the company to censor dissenting users in the country. The lawsuit comes after mounting pressure from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which in recent weeks has ordered Twitter to block the posts and accounts of opponents. According to CNN, a source familiar with the lawsuit said the company will try to show the government’s orders ” Demonstrate excessive and disproportionate use of power“.

The 2021 regulations that Twitter is currently fighting have given the Indian government the ability to require social media companies to block certain posts or accounts in the country. In addition, the Indian government has required these companies to locate their compliance officers in the country so that they can be held criminally liable if the company fails to comply with the orders.

Despite Twitter’s compliance with the orders, the lawsuit represents a major act of resistance against the Indian government’s calls to censor dissenting content.

In 2021, WhatsApp filed a similar lawsuit in an attempt to prevent the government from forcing the company to make all messages “trackable” on demand. According to the company, this order “It seriously violates the privacy of the billions of people who communicate digitally.” The WhatsApp lawsuit is still ongoing.

Twitter’s action highlights an important issue facing social media platforms: What do they do when local laws require them to engage in politically motivated censorship? Increasingly, censored governments are trying to delegate tech companies to do the dirty work on their behalf, forcing them to censor, block or even track government critics. While these companies may have values ​​that marginally try to protect freedom of expression, repressive governments often force tech companies to cooperate.

Governments around the world have enlisted technology companies to carry out domestic oversight tasks.

In 2024, the European Union’s Digital Services Act will come into force, forcing tech companies to heavily regulate their platforms. The legislation requires companies to remove content deemed to be hate speech or misleading information — two broad categories that could easily turn into blanket state censorship. In Germany, hate speech laws require companies like Twitter to report users to law enforcement.

As stated by a Twitter spokesperson, Law “Forcing private companies to act as prosecutors by reporting users to law enforcement even when there is no illegal behavior.”

While the threat of criminal liability to employees (India-based executives convicted of violating control orders can face up to seven years in prison) can prevent companies from outright refusing to comply with oversight regulations, lawsuits like the Twitter case are a clear step in the right direction. .

However, the future appears increasingly to offer social media companies a choice between participating in government-imposed censorship and surveillance, or halting operations in these countries altogether. In the first case, it is about participating in a great injustice, in the second, it is the reduction of its customers by several billion people.

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