The government on Thursday slammed as "baseless and false" a statement by Twitter that had alleged intimidation by police over the 'manipulated media' tags issue and threat to freedom of expression, with IT Ministry terming the company's stance as an attempt to dictate terms to the world's largest democracy.
The ministry asserted that representatives of social media companies, including Twitter, "are and will always remain safe in India", and that there is "no threat to their personal safety and security". In a statement, the ministry said India has a glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices dating back centuries. "Protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of only a private, for-profit, foreign entity like Twitter, but it is the commitment of the world's largest democracy and its robust institutions," it said.
Twitter's statement is an attempt to "dictate its terms" to the world's largest democracy, the ministry said, adding that through its actions and deliberate defiance, the company is seeking to undermine India's legal system.
Twitter refuses to comply with the very regulations in the Intermediary Guidelines on the basis of which it is claiming a safe harbour protection from any criminal liability in India, the ministry contended. It questioned Twitter on why it did not set up a robust mechanism of its own in India, and said the company's officials in India routinely claimed that they have no authority and that "they and the people of India need to escalate everything to Twitter headquarter in USA".
The purported commitment of Twitter to its Indian user base thus not only sounds hollow but completely self-serving, the ministry said.
Despite having a large user base in India and earning significant revenue from its operations here, Twitter is "most reluctant" to appoint India-based grievance redressal officer and mechanism, chief compliance officer and nodal officer to whom its own users can complain when they are subjected to offensive tweets, the ministry argued.
The government said it respects the right of people to ask questions and also criticise on these social media platforms, including Twitter. The government equally respects the right of privacy, it said. "The only instance of scuttling free speech on Twitter is Twitter itself and its opaque policies, as a result of which people's accounts are suspended and tweets deleted arbitrarily without recourse," the ministry pointed out.
It asked Twitter to "stop beating around the bush" and comply with the laws of the land. "Law making and policy formulations is the sole prerogative of the sovereign and Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus in dictating what India's legal policy framework should be," the ministry said.
The government said although Twitter claimed that it is committed to people of India, that commitment has been "most invisible in recent times". Flagging some instances, it said Twitter chose to show the geo-locations of certain locations in Union Territory of Ladakh as part of China, and took several days to rectify "this blatant disrespect to India's sensitivity and territorial integrity".
The ministry also called out Twitter for delay in taking action on its order to block provocative content that could impact public law and order, even though the company had been quick to act on similar instance during violence at US Capitol Hill. The ministry said that Twitter's "lack of responsibility" had led to rampant proliferation of fake and harmful content against India and Indians. "Twitter Inc., a USA based private company, in its communique says that it seeks 'constructive dialogue', 'collaborative approach' from the Government of a sovereign democratic republic to 'safeguard interests of the public'. It is time that Twitter disabuses itself of this grandiosity and comply with laws of India," it said.
Earlier on Thursday, Twitter had called the recent visit by Delhi Police to its offices a form of "intimidation" and said it was concerned about its employees and the potential threat to freedom of expression.
Twitter had marked tweets by ruling BJP leaders on the alleged strategy document of Opposition to target the government over COVID as containing 'manipulated media', which prompted the police to visit its offices late on Monday. Opposition Congress has disputed the document, calling it fake.
In its first official statement after the Delhi Police visited the company's offices in Delhi and in Gurugram to serve notice to its country managing director as part of its investigation into the 'manipulated media' tag, Twitter said it will continue to be strictly guided by principles of transparency and protecting freedom of expression.
"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," Twitter said in the statement. "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," Twitter had said.