Social media firms must stick to Indian laws: Ravi Shankar Prasad
Union IT and communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said all social media platforms were welcome in India but must adhere to Indian laws, the warning coming amid a row over Twitter’s refusal to fully comply with a government order to deactivate a host of accounts.
Prasad said social media companies had taken immediate action when rioters targeted Capitol Hill in Washington but ignored directives for similar action after chaos broke out at the Red Fort during the farmers’ Republic Day tractor parade.
“This double standard would not work here,” he said.
Prasad flagged controversial content such as those with the hashtag “ModiPlanningFarmersGenocide. “Yeh kya mazak hai (What kind of a joke is this)?” he said.
“Please don’t spread enmity, violence and misinformation. Please follow the Constitution of India and the law of the land. Otherwise we will be very strict,” he said, replying to a question in the Upper House.
Prasad said that while social media platforms had their own self-regulatory mechanism to check and evaluate inflammatory content, that did not mean they would not follow Indian rules. “This will not work here,” he said.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech but Article 19(2) also says this freedom is subject to “reasonable restrictions” for the sake of preserving the country’s “sovereignty and integrity”.
On Wednesday, Prasad’s ministry had expressed displeasure at Twitter for failing to remove all the 1,100-plus accounts and posts the government had accused of spreading misinformation about the farmers’ protests.
The government was riled after Twitter had in a public blog post said it had taken down only half the accounts and posts flagged by the government.
The microblogging site had cited Indian law and “our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression” to resist the government’s directive to act against news media entities, journalists, activists and politicians.
But the government told Twitter’s representatives that the microblogging site had to follow its orders and that this was non-negotiable.
Asked about the steps the government had taken to check the spread of misinformation on social media, Prasad told the House “we have recently flagged Twitter” on the matter. His ministry officials are talking to Twitter.
“Our commitment (to) freedom of media, right of individuals and independence of the judiciary is complete and total. But we are equally concerned about the safety and security of India,” Prasad said.
He told MPs the government was working on new guidelines that would address gaps in the protection of Indians’ privacy on social media. “Work is in progress,” he said.
Prasad said he wanted to convey to the media platforms that freedom was important but they could not abuse it by showing unbidden revenge sex videos, porn, street violence and videos that ignite passions and fuel violence.