Twitter breaks the silence on new digital rule

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Sundar Pichai joins chorus says Google is clear about the values of a free and open internet and the benefits it brings, reports Asian Lite News

Twitter today broke its silence on new digital rules in the middle of its clash with the government over the “Congress toolkit” row and flagged concern over “the potential threat to freedom of expression” and “the use of intimidation tactics by the police”. In a sharply-worded statement, the social media giant said while it will “strive to comply with applicable law”, it planned to ask for changes to elements in the rules “that inhibit free, open conversation”.

This is the first time the micro-blogging site has spoken on the rules that require social media platforms to appoint a compliance officer in India, set up a grievance response mechanism and take down content within 36 hours of a legal order. WhatsApp has sued the government, saying the rules are unconstitutional and violate user privacy.

“Twitter is deeply committed to the people of India. Our service has proven vital for the public conversation and a source of support for people during the pandemic. To keep our service available, we will strive to comply with applicable law in India. But, just as we do around the world, we will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency, a commitment to empowering every voice on the service, and protecting freedom of expression and privacy under the rule of law,” said a Twitter spokesperson.

“Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve. We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules. We plan to advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation. We will continue our constructive dialogue with the Indian Government and believe it is critical to adopt a collaborative approach. It is the collective responsibility of elected officials, industry, and civil society to safeguard the interests of the public.”

Twitter has been on the radar of the government and the police after it marked posts by BJP leaders on an alleged “Congress toolkit” as “manipulated media”. The government asked Twitter to remove the tag and the Delhi Police visited Twitter India’s offices in Delhi and Gurgaon on Monday evening to serve notice asking for an explanation.

Technology touching society in deeper ways: Pichai

Meanwhile, Google said it is committed to complying with local laws and engages constructively with governments as they scrutinise and adopt regulatory frameworks to keep pace with the fast evolving technology landscape, its CEO Sundar Pichai said.

“It’s obviously early days and our local teams are very engaged… we always respect local laws in every country we operate in and we work constructively. We have clear transparency reports, when we comply with government requests, we highlight that in our transparency reports,” Mr Pichai said in a virtual conference with select reporters from Asia Pacific.

He added that a free and open internet is “foundational”, and that India has long traditions of that.

As a company, we are very clear about the values of a free and open internet and the benefits it brings and we advocate for it, and we engage constructively with regulators around the world, and we participate in these processes, I think it’s a part of how we learn…”

He added that the company respects the legislative processes, and in cases where it needs to push back, it does so. “It’s a balance we have struck around the world,” he said.

Pichai noted that technology is touching society in deeper and broader ways and the landscape is evolving at a fast pace.

“So, we fully expect governments rightfully to both scrutinize and adopt regulatory frameworks. Be it Europe with copyright directive or India with information regulation etc, we see it as a natural part of societies figuring out how to govern and adapt themselves in this technology-intensive world,” he said, adding that Google engages constructively with regulators around the world, and participates in these processes.

The new IT rules for social media companies, which came into effect from Wednesday, are aimed at making digital platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and Google – which have seen a phenomenal surge in usage over the past few years in India – more accountable and responsible for the content hosted on their platform.

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