Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have risen to fame in the past decade as they promote free speech and dialogue, allowing users to express their opinions and engage in open conversations. These exchanges are sometimes mindless, provocative, and misleading for users with no context on certain topics of conversation. The negative impact of improper social media use has often been swept under the rug, but the Indian government has taken a firm stance on the role of social media platforms in creating a safe space for conversations to take place. Moreover, to keep conversations transparent and devoid of biases.
The Indian government put out the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, which came into effect from May 25. The government had sent a notice on February 25th, 2021, asking social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to adhere to the rules that require the appointment of 3 officers who will cooperate with Indian law enforcement agencies and assist in identifying, monitoring, reporting, and removing objectionable content from the platforms. The companies were given a 3-month deadline to issue their compliance with the new IT rules. The notice also highlighted that non-compliance could mean that the platforms lose their intermediary status that protects them from liabilities over any third-party information that they host on their sites.
In a dramatic turn of events, the Indian government is being faced with resistance from Twitter as the social media giant finds it questionable to hold the compliance officer criminally liable for content posted on the platform. Facebook on the other hand has agreed to comply with the Indian officials in making the platform safer for free speech and transparent conversations.
Most social media companies have requested a 6-month deadline, as they await guidelines from their US parent companies and headquarters. Twitter, however, has asked for a 3-month extension to evaluate the situation, as it is concerned that the freedom of speech of its users could be curtailed if it complies to the new IT rules of India.
Twitter is infamously known to suspend accounts and flag posts of political leaders. On 4th June 2021, the Nigerian government indefinitely banned Twitter which was a result of Twitter deleting the Nigerian President’s tweet and suspending his account for 12 hours. The Nigerian government clarified the reason for banning Twitter saying, “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence”.
During the US Presidential elections held in 2020, Twitter flagged tweets made by Donald Trump as misleading, deciding on its own accord that the information credibility might be flaky. Often, the platform has taken decisions on behalf of the public, intentionally or unintentionally dictating whether a tweet is valid or not. In matters that the public must be a judge of, Twitter has repeatedly intervened and “clarified” the purpose or intention of information.
Twitter has also repeatedly flagged tweets made by the leaders of the ruling party in India, labelling them as “manipulated media”. The Delhi Police had also made a surprise visit to Twitter’s offices demanding an explanation flagging posts concerning a toolkit created by the opposition. The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITy) in an attempt to moderate the influence of social media platforms on news, public opinion, and dialogue, has introduced the new IT rules.
Social media platforms are known to control, restrict and impose rules that the public is expected to adhere to, while they benefit from our data. The superior control that they have over our actions has raised genuine concerns of how these platforms can control and push certain narratives. Governments and users are still dubious about Twitter’s intervention in flagging only certain questionable posts as manipulated media but leaving many others out of scrutiny.
Twitter especially, is known to target views that are politically right-leaning, thereby not scrutinizing everyone under the same lenses. In an interview that took place in 2018, Twitter admitted that its biases are skewed to the left, implying that they bring their own ideologies into play while reviewing questionable content, instead of viewing content from a balanced standpoint. This specifically, has aggrieved many users on the platform, resulting in massive condemnation of the biased treatment.
During the riots that took place on 26th January 2021, in Delhi during the Republic Day celebrations, the Indian government identified many twitter handles that peddled fake information regarding the riots, causing massive turmoil on and off the social media. The platform was advised by the Indian government to take down such fake posts and the accounts that spread misinformation, but Twitter restores the accounts back to normal after only 5 hours of suspension. The social media giant made it abundantly clear of its philosophies and let the stakeholders’ ideologies spill into company’s stance on matters.
The Indian government expects to correct this bias, by ensuring the platforms do not operate as per their own standards and adhere to the law of the land by weighing all questionable posts on the same scale and take measures without any biases.