Twitter sues the Indian government . . .
Twitter announced Tuesday that it is suing the Indian government to challenge the sweeping orders imposed in 2021 through Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new IT laws to remove content and block accounts. The standoff between Twitter and the Modi government started last year when the social media company refused to comply with the government’s orders to take down certain accounts and posts related to the farmers' protests. Meanwhile, WhatsApp’s May 2021 lawsuit against the new IT laws is pending in the Delhi High Court.
Public debate and privacy at risk . . .
The IT regulations announced by the Indian government in February 2021 supposedly came in response to public requests for social media regulations to combat online misinformation. But social media companies argue that the law essentially allows the government to censor the digital public sphere and track the source of social media content by enabling traceability, violating security measures such as end-to-end encryption, and breaching Indian citizens' rights to privacy. If social media companies fail to comply, the government reserves the right to impose criminal penalties on the companies’ local executives. Compared to other countries, India ranks high in government requests to remove content on platforms owned by Twitter and Meta (formerly Facebook).
Crackdown on critical and Muslim journalists . . .
Over the past year, India has also arrested several journalists for sharing content on social media that, according to authorities, was inflammatory or objectionable. On June 27, Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, was arrested for an “objectionable” tweet published in 2018. Coincidentally, Zubair was among the first to use social media to highlight inflammatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad made by Nupur Sharma, a former spokeswoman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Those and similar comments provoked an international backlash, suspensions of crucial BJP leaders, court cases, and several incidents of public protest, outrage, violence, and deaths over the past month. Zubair’s arrest is among many where the Indian government has been targeting journalists, particularly from the Muslim minority community, who are critical of the Modi government. Press freedom in India has hit an all-time low as the country ranked 150, down from 142 in 2021, on Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2022. The RSF index tracks media independence, legislative frameworks, and journalists’ safety worldwide.