Though the FIR was registered on February 18, the issue came to light on Thursday. A police officer said that notices will be issued to the respondents seeking their comments.

Case against Twitter TikTok WhatsApp in Hyderabad for allowing anti-CAA content
news CAA Friday, February 28, 2020 - 09:17

The Hyderabad Cyber Crime Police on Thursday booked the India-based heads of Twitter, WhatsApp and TikTok on the basis of a complaint that alleged that they were allowing people to upload and post messages and videos that are against “Nation and Religion”. The complaint letter to the police seems to be predominantly against the protesters who are against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The complainant, Silveri Srishailam, who claims to be a journalist running a YouTube cheannel called NOTA TV, has named Abhijit Bose, head of WhatsApp Inc, Manish Maheshwar, the managing director of Twitter Communications India Private Limited, and Nikhil Gandhi, head of TikTok, as the respondents

The complainant managed to get the Telangana High Court to direct the Hyderabad cybercrime police to accept the complaint against the social media giants. Following this, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Cyber Crime Police Station, KVM Prasad told PTI that a case has been registered and that legal opinion will be sought to proceed further.

What the complaint says

The complaint accuses the Indian divisions of these three social media firms of intentionally circulating “objectionable video and word content” over their platforms, causing “damage to the Nation integration and communal harmony” for personal gains. The complaint further claimed that these firms have a “hidden agenda” and allow people to create groups and web pages in vernacular languages to spread the content.

"Some of the anti-social elements under the guise of freedom of expression, started a social media campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, merging the same with proposed National Registry of Citizens (NRC) across the country,” it read.

The complainant claims that these anti-social elements are circulating the content without verifying the content and goes on to accuse these firms of “waging war against India through propaganda to create disharmony, feelings of enmity, hearted and ill will among Indian citizens”.

Accusing Abhijit of allowing WhatsApp groups that are against CAA to thrive on their platform, the complainant has also attached the phone numbers of 26 such Whatsapp group.

Silveri claimed that Manish, who heads Twitter in India, did not take action against those accounts that are circulating dubious content against religion and India.

The complainant then claimed that TikTok head Nikhil allowed users to register protest against the CAA, "videos of protests overlapped with antinationalism videos, dialogue and abused and offensive words against Indian national leaders where lakhs of people viewing liking and commenting about derogatory videos".

Though the first information report (FIR) was registered on February 18, the issue came to light on Thursday. A police officer said that notices would be issued to the respondents seeking their comments.

‘I have proof’: Silveri

When TNM contacted Silveri to enquire about the specifics, he sent 11 TikTok videos and memes as “proof”, claiming that he had collected over 500 other videos. When asked why his complaint to the police fails to mention provocative content by right-wing groups, he replied, “I have submitted provocative content from both sides to the police.”  His written complaint, however, makes no mention of any offensive content by pro-CAA groups.

The TikTok content shared by Silveri with TNM was mostly made by the app users who are against CAA. Some of the videos contained offensive words against the Indian Prime Minister while other videos contained inflammatory language against those who support the government’s policies. Among the content were also memes with pornographic content mixed with religious slurs. The complainant also claimed there were Twitter handles from Pakistan, which were sharing these memes that appear to have been created with an intention to offend.

A close look at the content on NOTA TV, reveals that the YouTube channel publishes a mix of conspiracy theories ranging from ‘if Taj Mahal was a temple’ to ‘if Qutub Minar was a Vishnu temple’, apart from a few interviews. “I have proof for all of this...I have documents proving that Qutub Minar is a temple,” Silveri again insists, offering evidence.

When asked about his motive behind filing the FIR against these firms, the man said, “They are violating the law. Having artificial intelligence, they can cross-check any texts and videos for distasteful content. What they are doing here in India, they can’t do in the US.”

Silveri is confident about the jurisdictional capabilities of the Cybercrime Unit of Hyderabad Commissionerate.

Response from firms

Responding to the allegations, a WhatsApp spokesperson shared an earlier statement that the company cared deeply about the safety of its users in India.

"WhatsApp has made significant product changes and worked with partners across civil society, engaged with relevant government authorities and other technology platforms to help address the harmful consequences of misinformation," the spokesperson said.

Inside sources told IANS that Twitter has not received any information on any such development so far.

TikTok said it is looking into the matter.

While WhatsApp has 400 million users in India, TikTok has crossed 200 million users. According to Statista, Twitter had nearly 35 million active users in India in 2019.

(With inputs from IANS)

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