India's expectation of Twitter complying with the country's rules for social media platforms will not change with its takeover by Elon Musk, according to a senior minister.
The world's richest man and CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc has become Twitter Inc's new owner and the self-described free speech absolutist fired top executives, including chief executive Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde.
"How does it matter to government who owns what. Our laws and rules are applicable to platforms regardless of who owns it or who doesn't own it," Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar told PTI in reply to a specific question on the ownership change at Twitter.
Musk's claim of allowing free speech on the platform has enthused many, particularly those who were banned by Twitter for violation of rules.
Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut, who was banned from Twitter last year for violating its rules on hateful conduct and abusive behaviour, took to Instagram on Friday to hail articles about Musk's takeover.
She re-shared a fan's post in which he asked Elon Musk to restore the actor's account. Musk, who is the world's richest man, had in April made an unsolicited take-it-or-leave-it USD 44 billion takeover offer.
India is one of the largest markets for social media companies, and Twitter is no exception.
But the microblogging platform has had confrontations with the government, the most recent being compliance with the new IT rules.
Musk himself had a track record of standoffs with the government over import duties. Telsa wants higher import duties slashed, a move opposed by local companies.
Starlink, a part of Musk's SpaceX, was barred in November 2021 from accepting pre-orders for its satellite broadband services in India without a licence.
Government sources said Elon Musk's SpaceX Starlink has applied for a licence now.
Twitter is extensively used by several government handles, politicians and businesses as a medium of disseminating views and information.
Notably, Musk's takeover comes at a time when India is all set to tweak IT rules to make way for the setting up of grievance appellate panels that will be able to review content moderation decisions by social media companies like Twitter and Meta.
There have been reports that digital platforms are acting arbitrarily in pulling down content and 'de-platforming'.
The formation of government-appointed grievance appellate panels in the coming weeks and months will arm users with a robust grievance appeal mechanism in form of appellate committees. The panels will look into appeals filed by individuals against decisions of grievance officers of social media platforms.
As it is, big social media firms have drawn flak in the past over hate speech, misinformation and fake news circulating on their platforms. Concerns have been flagged by some quarters, time and again, over digital platforms acting arbitrarily in pulling down content and 'de-platforming' users.
The government notified IT rules last year to make digital intermediaries more accountable and responsible for content hosted on their platforms. The IT rules mandate large digital platforms (with over 50 lakh users) to publish compliance reports every month, mentioning the details of complaints received and actions taken.
The rules required social media companies to take down contentious content quicker, appoint grievance redressal officers and assist in investigations.
But even after providing for the redressal mechanism through the IT Rules 2021, user grievances remained unresolved, prompting the government to step in and propose an appellate jurisdiction framework.
The government has, all along, emphasised that safety and trust are public policy objectives and mission, and it will do all it takes to ensure suitable safeguards are in place for digital citizens navigating online and social media space.
After reports that digital platforms were acting arbitrarily in pulling down content and 'de-platforming', the government made it amply clear that social media companies cannot undermine the constitutional rights of citizens, and that internet must be a safe and trusted place with all platforms accountable to their users.
There is growing discontent among a section of users who allege that digital platforms have been indulging in arbitrary acts in taking down content or not responding fast enough to grievances, despite users red-flagging them.