The continuing stand of Twitter of not willing to accept a rule-based operation of its business in India should be quite worrying challenge to the Government in India. The issue revolves around the Indian state’s need for averting a scenario where extra-national organizations possessing enormous economic and technological clout are able to nullify the lawful authority of the Indian state.
All that the Indian state demands of Twitter and other social media companies is not to assume the role beyond what they are allowed to do legally in India as an intermediary for social expressions of people. While India being the largest democracy in the world has no issue with Twitter doing its legitimate business in India of offering its platform for millions of Indians to express socially and earning profits, it cannot ignore the legitimate concern of the Indian government regarding the scope for misuse of the same platform to jeopardize its national and developmental interests. Twitter has to recognize that India has a tradition of being a free society and polity for centuries and therefore its pontifications about freedom of speech is out of context and uncalled for.
The unique thing about social media platforms is that unlike in the case of print and visual media anyone can choose to remain anonymous while making any posts which in so far as certain aspects of the life of a nation is concerned is not merely an issue of freedom of privacy. There may be surely people who are intent to create trouble and disorder in the society and there are also people whose intentions are to indulge in clandestine activities including waging war on the state. The state cannot be helpless in this scenario of grave potential threats to the safety and security and the peaceful co-existence of its people.
Social media organizations cannot be openly involved in the internal political affairs of a sovereign state. Ethics of any business, especially that of social media platforms that provide people space for political expressions almost indiscriminately, demand political neutrality of the highest degree. Twitter’s recent behaviour, under which it tagged tweets of BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as ‘manipulated media’ is a dilution of this principle. Twitter has not had independent verification of the facts in this case. Twitter is also guilty in scrupulously allowing its platform to be used to malign India during the very difficult time of battling coronavirus pandemic. That is why the Government of India is right in asking Twitter to take down all the references in their platform to an “Indian variant” of the virus, which really does not exist.
The unrestricted appearance of such false narratives in the now ubiquitous social medical platforms will amount to waging war against the Indian state. The wrapping up this in the garb of “freedom of expression” which Twitter is doing is not desirable.
Such tendencies indicate that the private corporations have grown so powerful and they do not mind in defying the nation-states and legal authorities. Twitter’s wanton act of denigrating the tweet of Sambit Patra is indicative of social medial companies’ business interests in interfering in the politics of different countries. Twitter has recently been accused of interfering in US elections and stifling free speech for influencing voting. This is a very serious matter affecting the sovereignty concerns of different countries including India. What can be more ironic than the fact that the erstwhile president Donald trump account was disabled but the terrorist outfit Taliban account is on Twitter with a blue tick. Unbridled operation of social media companies like Twitter even poses a threat to the continued existence of different unique cultures by foisting totally alien concepts and ideas in the minds of the people in the guise of homogenization and modernization conceived in western countries. This they do by their power in influencing people’s thinking and behaviour. There is also a paradoxical situation of, while professing to promote individual freedom of expression, these private media organizations are in fact trying to have unprecedented access to how people think, the ability to track and monitor behaviour and also induce certain kind of behaviour.
An unprecedented scale of data gathering being resorted to by social media organizations led by big transnational corporate interests tends to threaten systems of governance, which is an insidious threat to the sovereignty of nation-states. There is a need to recognize this as a challenge being faced by the Government of India and it needs to take appropriate legal and policy measures. The syndicate of some multinational corporations cannot dictate the Indian government about the elucidation regarding freedom of speech. The recent measures taken by India with respect to social media content and its source of origin are in line with what many other democratic nations like the US and UK have adopted which have been acceded to by social media organizations. They cannot rightfully expect a different policy from India.
It is a bogey that the new measures adopted by India will harm the freedom of ordinary Indians. Indian legal system is strong and there is also constantly vigilant civil society and local level communities which are imbued with the traditional values of respecting individual freedom and dignity. These are adequate safeguards for guarding the rights of freedom of innocent ordinary citizens of India, which is a robust democracy. In our glorious country, a chronicle of democracy goes beyond centuries, the time when the world was totally unaware of this conception. Vaishali Mahajan pada is a classic example of ancient Indian democratic tradition. Only those who are intent on exploiting the scope for anonymity provided by the social media platforms to indulge in wrongs will have any discomfort with the new law for the legitimate control of social media platforms. Essential control of social media platforms is needed for preventing the fall of society into a lawless condition where all kinds of anti-social activities are committed without any fear of consequences, which is normal in community life. Not recognizing this, it is a very ridiculous proposition, which is being made by the critics of the Government on this issue including the opposition parties, that the corporate social media companies like Twitter are better champions of freedom of speech and privacy of the people than the democratically elected government.