But activists and technology companies fear that the new rules will give Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government too much discretionary power, and that their primary effect may be to let the government target and censor political opponents.
In the midst of all this, Twitter has become the government’s favorite punching bag.
The company has struggled to fill in key spots that are mandated by the government that other companies have had more success with. And technical experts told CNN Business that they are confused by Twitter’s apparent inability to commit to either complying with the rules or to take a stand and defy them altogether.
“This year there has been a marked increase in digital authoritarianism in India … and Twitter has been turned into a scapegoat for sending a message to other companies,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia’s political director and senior international adviser to the group. of digital rights. Access now. He added that Twitter probably did not realize how much of a goal it had become before too late.
“If they had,” he said, “they could have been more public with the challenges they have 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 the company against government attacks.
Twitter declined to comment on the situation in India when asked by CNN Business on Friday.
How it all began
Twitter has been fighting for the Indian government since the beginning of this year when it collided with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology over accounts that the agency wanted to be taken down amid a series of protests from farmers. Twitter complied with some of the requests, but refused to act against journalists, activists or politicians.
Weeks after this feud, India introduced the new IT rules, which require, among other things, social media companies to create three roles in the country: a “compliance officer” who will ensure that their business complies with local laws; a “complaints officer” who will deal with complaints from Indian users about its platforms; and a “contact person” available to Indian police 24/7. They must all reside in India. Companies are also required to track the “first originator” of notifications if requested to do so by the authorities.
However, Twitter has so far neither compiled the rules nor presented a legal challenge to them. It also sent mixed signals with its statements on the matter: In May, the company expressed concern about “the core elements of the new IT rules” and the “potential threat to freedom of expression” in the country. Then, a few days later, it promised to meet the new requirements.
“We have assured the Indian government that Twitter is making every effort to comply with the new guidelines, and an overview of our progress is duly shared,” the company said in a statement in June. “We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian government.”
This week, the company went further and has clearly set its timeline for compliance.
It was recently brought to court by a Twitter user who encountered defamatory posts on the service and could not find an India-based complaints officer. On Thursday, it filed an application with CNN Business, and which Twitter confirmed as authentic, the platform said it has hired a temporary compliance officer. It added that it will “strive in good faith to offer a qualified candidate an offer of employment” within eight weeks for all three roles.
CNN Business has also seen these posts advertised by Twitter on LinkedIn.
Shy away from lawsuits
On the same Thursday, however, the court filed that Twitter reserved to the court that it reserves the right to challenge the “legality” and “validity” of the new technical rules.
The company’s decision so far not to challenge the Indian government’s IT rules in court – as WhatsApp has done – has been “amazing”, said Mishi Choudhary, a technology lawyer and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, a consortium of lawyers, policy analysts and technology analysts. , working towards digital rights.
“A comprehensive strategy to address legitimate demands from the government while negotiating or challenging the legality of problematic provisions in the new IT rules would have put Twitter in a reasonable light,” Choudhary told CNN Business.
“This random, non-transparent positioning [by Twitter] leads only to speculation and zero clarity for users or observers. “
“It’s a very delicate balance to draw when you actually want to be in court, versus when you want to negotiate and try to make sure the government understands the perspective you bring,” she said when asked at the summit. the company plans to file a legal challenge in India. “Because I think you can lose a lot of control when you end up in lawsuits. You certainly do not know what to do.”
Not enough people on earth
Twitter’s difficulties in relation to rivals such as Google and Facebook could also be explained, according to Chima, by its relative lack of business partnerships in the region and a small amount of political capital. He said that although Twitter is hugely influential in Indian political and media circles, the team in the country is smaller and younger than other American tech giants.
The company refused to disclose the size of its team in India.
Still, the company’s situation deserves some sympathy, according to Nikhil Pahwa, the Delhi-based founder of tech site MediaNama.
“I would say they could not fully understand the problems they would face if they did not even comply with basic adaptation,” Pahwa told CNN Business. But “I do not think any company would have handled things well if they were facing the attack that we are seeing on Twitter right now.”