Twitter is a mess in India. This is how it got there

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Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies are grappling with a tense standoff with India over tough new IT rules the government introduced in February. The rules aim to regulate online content and require companies to hire people who can quickly respond to legal requests to remove posts, among other things – and those executives can be subject to potential criminal liability if the flagged content is not deleted.
There are serious and legitimate concerns about Big Tech entering India and elsewhere that these rules could theoretically resolve. American social networks have moved to other countries, eager to tap into important new markets, but seemingly unaware of the effects their platforms might have on people there and little expertise or infrastructure to do so. in the face of these effects. This can have huge consequences, because Facebook’s presence in Myanmar done, as well as the smaller ones. Indian authorities facing an urgent problem with material on Twitter, for example, may currently have to wait until people in California – 12 hours late – are available.

But activists and tech companies fear the new rules will give Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government too much discretion, and their primary effect may allow the government to target and censor political opponents.

Amidst all of this, Twitter has become the government’s favorite punching bag.

The company has struggled to fill key government-mandated positions that other companies have been more successful with. And tech experts told CNN Business they were puzzled by Twitter’s apparent inability to commit to either abiding by the rules or taking a stand and defying them completely.

“This year has seen a significant increase in digital authoritarianism in India (…) and Twitter has become a scapegoat for sending a message to other businesses,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, director of policy for the ‘Asia and Senior International Advisor at Digital Rights Group. Access now. He added that Twitter probably didn’t realize how much of a target it had become until too late.

“If they had,” he said, “they could have been more public with the challenges they faced.”

Instead, Chima said, Twitter’s public response and engagement with authorities, tech advocacy groups and even the media has been “intermittent,” making it difficult for potential allies to defend it. enterprise against the onslaught of the government.

Today, the tech giant is in uncharted waters in one of its biggest markets. Twitter has lost immunity against third party content in India, which means that it can be held legally responsible for anything its users post on its platform. The company is also the target of a handful of police investigations in India, including an related to how the company handled tweets from a prominent ruling party official.

Twitter declined to comment on the situation in India when asked by CNN Business on Friday.

How it all began

Twitter has been battling the Indian government since early this year, when it clashed with the Department of Electronics and Information Technology over accounts the agency wanted to delete in a series of farmer demonstrations. Twitter acceded to some of the requests but declined to take action against the accounts of journalists, activists or politicians.

A few weeks after this feud, India introduced the new IT rules, which among other things require social media companies to create three roles in the country: a “compliance officer” who will ensure that their company obeys local laws. ; a “grievance officer” who will handle complaints from Indian users regarding its platforms; and a “contact person” available for Indian law enforcement 24/7. They must all reside in India. Companies are also required to trace the “first sender” of messages if the authorities so request.

Google told CNN Business on Friday that it had named the three officers. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment, but media reports suggest that the company has complied with the new rules, at least in part.
Facebook, however, has pushed back at least one critical issue. Its popular WhatsApp messaging service sued the indian government in May on the rules, claiming that following the message tracing rule would violate its policy of providing end-to-end encryption to users.

Twitter, however, has so far neither compiled the rules nor filed a legal challenge against them. He also sent mixed signals with his statements on the matter: In May, the company expressed concerns about “the essentials of the new IT rules” and the “potential threat to free speech” in the country. Then, a few days later, he pledged to meet the new requirements.

“We have assured the Indian government that Twitter is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines, and a snapshot of our progress has been duly shared,” the company said in a statement in June. “We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government.”

This week, the company has gone further and made clear its compliance schedule.

It was recently taken to court by a Twitter user who came across slanderous posts on the service and couldn’t find an India-based grievance officer. In a case filed in court on Thursday, provided to CNN Business and which Twitter confirmed to be genuine, the platform said it had hired an interim compliance officer. He added that he “will make good faith efforts to make an offer of employment to a qualified candidate” within eight weeks for all three roles.

CNN Business also saw these posts advertised by Twitter on LinkedIn.

Avoid legal action

In the same court file from Thursday, however, Twitter told the court it reserved the right to challenge the “legality” and “validity” of the new tech rules.

The company’s decision, so far, not to challenge the Indian government’s IT rules in court – as WhatsApp has done – has been “baffling,” said Mishi Choudhary, a lawyer specializing in technology and technology. founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, a consortium of attorneys, policy analysts and technology analysts who work for digital rights.

“A comprehensive strategy to respond to legitimate government demands while negotiating or challenging the legality of problematic provisions of the new IT rules would have positioned Twitter in a reasonable light,” Choudhary told CNN Business.

“This random and non-transparent positioning [by Twitter] only leads to speculation and zero clarity for users or observers. “

Silicon Valley is at a high-stakes deadlock with India
While Twitter declined to comment on its India strategy on Friday, company officials have not been completely silent in recent weeks. AT virtual conference on digital rights in June, Vijaya Gadde – the company’s head of legal, policy, trust and security – called litigation a “blunt tool” and warned against filing a complaint.

“It’s a very delicate balance to strike when you really want to be in court, versus when you want to negotiate and try to make sure the government understands the point of view you bring,” she said. , when asked at the top if the company plans to file a legal challenge in India. “Because I think you can lose a lot of control when you find yourself in a dispute. You sure don’t know what’s going to happen. “

Not enough people on the ground

Twitter’s struggles with rivals like Google and Facebook could also be explained by its relative lack of business partnerships in the region and low political capital, according to Chima. He said that while Twitter is hugely influential in Indian political and media circles, the country’s team is smaller and younger than those of other US tech giants.

The company declined to disclose the size of its team in India.

Twitter’s very public battle with India’s tech ministry over tweets over the past few months has also ruffled feathers. In addition to refusing to delete certain tweets or accounts, Twitter has locked India down now former minister of technology of his account last month.

Still, the company’s plight deserves some sympathy, according to Nikhil Pahwa, founder of Delhi-based tech website MediaNama.

“I would say they didn’t fully grasp the issues they would face if they didn’t even comply at the basic level,” Pahwa told CNN Business. But “I don’t think any company would have handled things well if they had faced the onslaught that Twitter is facing right now.”


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