IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday slammed Twitter for deliberate defiance and failure to comply with the country's new IT rules, which has led to the United States giant losing its intermediary status in India and becoming liable for users posting any unlawful content.
Twitter has allegedly not fully complied with the new rules, called Intermediary Guidelines that call for setting up grievance redressal mechanism and appointing officers to coordinate with law enforcement.
The rules became effective from May 26 and Twitter even after the expiry of the additional time has not appointed the requisite officers, leading to it losing the 'safe harbour' immunity, sources in the government said.
Prasad said Twitter has 'deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance'.
The minister also mentioned that if any foreign entity believes that it can portray itself as flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, 'such attempts are misplaced'.
'There are numerous queries arising as to whether Twitter is entitled to safe harbour provision. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May,' he said in social media posts.
He posted a series of messages on Koo -- Twitter's homegrown replica -- and then on Twitter itself, saying the US social media giant 'was given multiple opportunities to comply with the same, however, it has deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance'.
Loss of intermediary status in India implies that in the event of any charge against the microblogging site for alleged unlawful content, it would be treated as a publisher and would be liable for punishment under penal laws.
The new IT rules, originally announced in February, are aimed at regulating content on social media firms and making likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter more accountable to legal requests for swift removal of posts and sharing details on the originators of messages.
Prasad's ministry on June 5 had written to Twitter warning it of 'unintended consequences' if it did not comply with the rules.
Twitter did not immediately comment on Prasad's tweets but it on Tuesday stated that it was keeping IT ministry apprised of progress of every step of the process.
'An interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the Ministry directly soon,' it had said.
'Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new guidelines.'
The government's relationship with social media platforms has been tense for the past few months and with Twitter, it got enunciated when posts by BJP leaders on an alleged strategy document of the opposition Congress party to target the Modi government's handling of the second wave of Covid infections, was tagged as 'manipulated media'.
"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 manipulated media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes," Prasad said on Wednesday.
He also referred to tweets by few journalists and fact-checking website co-founder allegedly giving communal colour to a dispute over the sale of a 'tabeez' (amulet).
The minister said that what happened in Uttar Pradesh was illustrative of Twitter's 'arbitrariness' in fighting fake news.
"While Twitter has been over-enthusiastic about its fact-checking mechanism, its failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing as well as points towards its inconsistency in fighting misinformation," he said.
Ghaziabad police have booked Twitter and six people for circulating a video that claimed to have the elderly Muslim man saying he was thrashed and asked to chant 'Jai Shri Ram'.
Police say this was done to create communal unrest.
Prasad said that Indian companies, be it pharma or IT or others that go to do business in the US or in other countries overseas, voluntarily follow the local laws.
"Then why are platforms like Twitter showing reluctance in following Indian laws designed to give voice to the victims of abuse and misuse," the minister questioned.
The culture of India varies like its large geography, he said, adding that in certain scenarios, with the amplification of social media, even a small spark can cause a fire, especially with the menace of fake news.
"This was one of the objectives of bringing the Intermediary Guidelines," Prasad said.
The IT Ministry has questioned Twitter over not providing information about the Chief Compliance Officer as required under the rules.
Also, the resident grievance officer and nodal contact person nominated by the company is not an employee of Twitter Inc in India as prescribed in the rules, the ministry had flagged.