New Delhi : In the backdrop to the recent issues between Twitter India and the central government, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said that India was proud of being the world’s largest and the most vibrant democracy and the government welcomes criticism but non-compliance of law under the garb of freedom of speech and democracy is not acceptable. The Union Minister in an exclusive interview with ANI also said that the social media platform should not “lecture us on democracy.”
He said that India has the distinction of being the world’s largest and the most vibrant democracy and gave the example that the BJP won the Assam assembly polls but lost in West Bengal elections.
He said that in India, the judiciary questions the government, the media questions senior ministers. “Today, there are 100 crores users of Twitter in India. I am happy. Let them earn money. Allow users to criticize us. Most welcome. But when these profit-making companies lecture us on democracy….”
“I would like to ask a question- India is a democracy because its elections are fair. We won Assam and lost Bengal recently. We have a dependent judiciary that keeps us asking questions like with Covid. We are following. Media asks tough questions from a senior minister. That’s what freedom of speech and democracy is about. These issues are important. But under the garb of these, you think you won’t comply, then it’s a misplaced argument,” said the Union Minister.
This comes in the backdrop of the intermediary status of Twitter being removed and making the microblogging site liable under provisions, including the Indian Penal Code.
“I am not the one who declared it (removal of Twitter’s intermediary status). The law has. If others followed, why couldn’t they? We asked for three officers to be appointed in three months, and the period had exhausted on May 26. We gave them the last opportunity as a goodwill gesture,” union minister Prasad told ANI in an exclusive interview.
The microblogging site, the minister said, had failed to appoint executives in the roles of resident grievance officer, nodal officer, and chief compliance officer as per norms of the government to deal with abuse and use of social media.
“We gave them (Twitter) three months. Others have followed. They haven’t. Rule 7 of (IT) guidelines says if you don’t comply then under Sec 79 you may lose intermediary status and may become liable to other laws including penal laws of the country,” Prasad said.
In his interview with ANI, the Union Law and Justice, Electronics and Information Technology and Communications Minister said that guidelines had been “a work in progress for the last three to four years.”
The minister said that Twitter’s non-compliance with the new IT Rules means it has lost its status as an intermediary, and now it can be held responsible for user-generated content.
Earlier Twitter was accorded protection as a third-party intermediary under Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act, which states that any intermediary shall not be held legally or otherwise liable for any third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted on its platform. Other social media platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, remain protected.
“There were two judgments of the Supreme Court. One in Prajwala case of 2018 which said that sexual manifestation of women should be avoided and then the Facebook case of 2019 September said that if there are messages which lead to violence, riots, etc, there should be a mechanism. There were demands of the Parliament cutting across party divide in 2018 from me, against fake news, against all those entries depicting women in a bad light. Then there were consultations after which we came up with these guidelines.”
“The rule 7 of guidelines, which says that if you don’t comply, under section 79, you may lose your intermediary status. And you may become liable to other laws, including penal laws.
“If something is happening, it isn’t because of me but because of law namely clause 7 of rules guidelines,” the minister said.