Twitter has had three weeks to comply with India’s 2021 Information Technology Rules (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Code of Ethics for Digital Media) – which went into effect last week.
Twitter protested the new rules on the grounds that they hamper free speech. The Indian government has called Twitter’s reaction undemocratic interference in the country’s affairs.
The decision to force Twitter to tidy up his house came yesterday in the form of an order from the Delhi High Court, which heard a petition from an Indian citizen who complained that the microblogging service failed to comply with the Code requirement to appoint a grievance officer in India.
During the hearing, Twitter revealed that he had made an appointment for the post. The company has since posted contact details for this officer, naming contacts in the United States and India – and a single email address – as a point of contact for individual Indians and government agencies wishing to raise content issues on Twitter.
Appointing a grievance officer is one of the many requirements social media companies are required to implement under the new code. The agent is required to remove the risky images within 24 hours and to remove the content as directed by the government or the courts no more than 36 hours after receiving a takedown notice.
The Indian government has said grievance officers are needed to ensure that child exploitative material does not persist online if automated filters for such material – another Code requirement – are not working. The Code also requires that social networks and messaging services “allow identification of the first sender” of material posted on these services. The requirement has been harshly criticized as effectively breaking end-to-end encryption and has seen WhatsApp sue India, allegedly on the grounds that it violates the confidentiality guarantees of the Indian constitution.
Twitter made no other obvious comments on the Delhi High Court ruling, which may be due to the fact that it was issued during a holiday weekend in the United States.
It is not known what would happen to Twitter if it did not comply with the new court order, but national and state governments in India have often put in place social media blocks when it is considered that the content that they broadcast could incite violence simply by informing users of the time and place of the protests. The fact that India has imposed lockdowns using this logic is one of the reasons why entities covered by the new code find it unacceptable and hope to change its wording to provide better protection for freedom of expression. However, Indian public opinion is currently firmly in favor of the government on this issue.