Can Twitter be tamed with ITA 2000?

Twitter has set the Indian legislators thinking. It has defied the demand of the Indian Government for removal of some tweets and accounts. Out of the 1178 requests (Or should we call it as directions?) made by the Indian Government, it is understood that a few hundreds have been acted upon and the rest not. Twitter has actually stated that it has its own rules and after considering the request from the Government, it has taken a considered view.

This raises a pertinent question whether Twitter is a law unto itself and beyond the Indian law?

The secondary question raised is whether Twitter is a “Commercial Business Entity” just like the East India Company which came to India to do business with us and is now following the footsteps of the East India Company in dictating terms to the Indian rulers.

Mr Tejasvi Surya, our honorable MP has rightly pointed out that Twitter is arbitrary in its approach since it finds “torming of Capitol Hill in the United States problematic but not when it happens at Red Fort”. It applies one logic to Greta Thunberg and Rihaana and another logic to Kangana Ranaut.

This is a great insult to India as a country and has to be strongly opposed. Naavi.org did give a call for Twitter Silence and moving over to Koo/Tooter and there has been a significant movement of users away from Twitter.

In the meantime there are Privacy Activists who are advocating that Twitter is actually trying to protect the fundamental right of Indian citizens better than the Indian Government.

The convoluted argument is that “Creating Chaos” through Twitter is a fundamental right of people.  The above article in Indian Express eulogizes Twitter as follows

“the platform feeds a larger ecology of digital media. This is because Twitter is the default social network for political leaders and foreign governments to make statements, as a large number of journalists are present on it. This often makes Twitter the homepage where news breaks first and loudly. Its speed, velocity, and quality of recipients is unparalleled as it integrates with television and press publications. Hence, Twitter is a significant forum for the ongoing adversarial contest for narrative control on the farm laws.”

There is a fundamental flaw in arguing that Twitter deserves to be respected as a “Media”. It is a commercial organization which makes money by  wash their dirty linen in public. It thrives by trolls and controversial discussions. It has no concern on the impact it has on the society as long as money flows into the coffers of Twitter.

Naturally there is more discussion on Politics on twitter rather than other educative aspects on science or culture.

Twitter is not a “Media” which is understood as “purveyor of news.” Twitter is a “Creator of arguments” and wants us to consider it as news.

There have been occasional good use of Twitter where news directly emanates from a citizen reporter and in such cases, Twitter like Facebook provides a ready platform in replacement of a own blog which many may not have.

There have also been a partially good use of Twitter when it is used to communicate the news already published by other media such as the Print publications or TV media. It is this aspect which the above article in Indian Express refers to when saying that “Twitter is often the home page” for news seekers.

There are many “News Aggregators” which provide a good aggregation of news from the traditional media and Twitter may also contribute to this use.

However, the principle content of Twitter which is also the subject of all the controversy is the “Views” expressed by different persons. Some of these are by the so called “Celebrities” may be from the film field, sports field or music field. Out of such “Celebrities” the political class is a significant contributor as they generate controversial views. Each such celebrities are measured for popularity from the number of followers and a lot of them use fake supporters who are operated by software. In Internet advertising we have what is called “Click Frauds” where software creates ad views and ad clicks to generate advertising revenues. The Twitter followers and their re-tweets which are used as a measure of popularity are nothing different from such “Click Frauds”.

It is also found that many accounts that support these fraudulent re-tweeting business are fake and even some of the leaders of these groups are fake. Twitter introduced a system of “Verified Handles” to separate fake users from genuine users. This verification system was fine since even a controversial view is fine as long as it comes from some body who owns the responsibility for the view.

However Twitter did not implement the “Verification” system fairly. It rejected many genuine requests (Naavi has been repeatedly refused the Blue tick) and approved many fake accounts as “Verified”. However the system of “Verification” was a good move and after some discontinuance, it has been re-started. There is an allegation that Verifications are easy to get if you are “Anti Modi”  which is subject to further verification.

If “Verification” system is fair and unbiased then it is a good system to ensure that only responsible persons express their opinion. However the “Responsibility” flows only when “Irresponsible posts” are properly punished.

All criticisms even against Modi are not “Irresponsible”. But when a pop singer who does not know where India is posts a tweet about India carrying on a “Genocide” and a 18 year old kid posts a “Tool kit” on how to spread anarchy in India, then the media owner has to answer whether his platform is purveying news or instigating violence.

This is precisely what is happening in India today. The Government of India has a provision called Section 69A in the ITA 2000 and has issued an order. If Twitter thinks the order is illegal, it has to approach a Court for staying the order. It cannot assume the role of the Judge and agree to block some and disagree to block others.

Twitter today is like a news paper which is full of “Letters to Editor” with the news and advertisements are spread in between. It is more like the “Ad Magazine” where only ads are there. The difference is that Twitter is an aggregation of “Views” with some ads and some news thrown in between. It does not deserve the respect as a “Media”.

In the case of Farm Laws, it would be appreciated if there is a clause by clause discussion of the farm laws on twitter in which case it would constitute useful content. But like the old Doordarshan, audience may not like such information and would rather fight on “Genocide”.

What is deplorable is that Twitter is supporting people who without understanding the farm laws are posing “Views” and provoking people to oppose the laws.

In such a scenario if the Government keeps quiet, then it would be a show of weakness.

We therefore fully endorse Mr Tejasvi Surya’s views that we need to crack the Whip. One way is to make Twitter redundant by moving over to alternate platforms. Second is to invoke the law to take appropriate criminal action against the Twitter executives so that they see reason. If it is necessary to amend Section 79 of ITA 2000, it can be done. But probably we donot need to amend the laws. The current laws are good enough to hold Twitter liable not only under several sections of IPC but also under Section 66F of ITA 2000.

Section 79 only refers to the exemptions available to an intermediary and is not the primary offence section. Twitter loses protection under Section 79 because it is not considering itself as an Intermediary but a content owner.

Let’s hope that Government does crack the whip…

Naavi

 

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About Vijayashankar Na

Naavi is a veteran Cyber Law specialist in India and is presently working from Bangalore as an Information Assurance Consultant. Pioneered concepts such as ITA 2008 compliance, Naavi is also the founder of Cyber Law College, a virtual Cyber Law Education institution. He now has been focusing on the projects such as Secure Digital India and Cyber Insurance
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