Twitter has lost its “safe harbour” immunity in India, that allows the company to not be tried in court for “inflammatory” and “unlawful” content posted on the platform by any user.
According to the new IT rules the social media website was to appoint statutory officers by May 25th. However, on failure to to so, the protective shield has been taken away. Now, Twitter’s top executives including the country managing director could face police questioning and criminal liability under the IPC on account of “unlawful” and “inflammatory” posted onto the platform.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Law & Justice, Communications, Electronics and Information Technology, criticised Twitter for having “deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance”. He stated:
“It is astounding that Twitter which portrays itself as the flag bearer of free speech, chooses the path of deliberate defiance when it comes to the Intermediary Guidelines. Further, what is perplexing is that Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to set up process as mandated by the law of the land. Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging manipulates media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes.”
With this, Twitter becomes the only American platform to have its protective shield taken away. Others such as Google, Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat are still protected. The above mentioned “protective shield” is granted under Section 79 of the IT Act. However, Twitter has reportedly appointed an interim Chief Compliance Officer in India. Details of the same will be shared with the IT Ministry of India soon.
IT Act and Implications for Twitter
Section 79 in The Information Technology Act, 2000 says that any social media intermediary will not be in danger of legal action for third party information or data made available or hosted on the site. It further reveals that the available protection shall be applicable if the social media platform does not initiate the transmission of the message in question, select the receiver of the transmitted message, and do not modify any information contained in the transmission.
This means that social media platforms will be protected from legal action, if users have put up posts understood to be “unlawful” or inflammatory”, and as long as the social media platforms don’t promote, or modify such content.
With such a protection taken away, quite a number of posts could land the company in danger of legal action. Additionlly what is deemed unlawful and inflammatory are as usual kept vague so as to allow flexibility and smoothness of the government to shut down any form of critical voice.