Indians and their love for social media trends is not hidden from many. From showing support for international campaigns and events like “Black Lives Matter”, “Burning of the Notre Dame” and the “Australian Bush Fires”, to making the bird app trend the likes of Virat Kohli, Amitabh Bachchan, Late Sushant Singh Rajput, and Ramayan, Indians have done it all in the pandemic hit the year of 2020.
However, 2021 has been a bit different for social media users in general and Twitter users in particular. Beginning the first month itself of 2021, Twitter and the Government of India got into a strange tiff with the later directing the management of Twitter India to block a number of accounts for which it drew flak. Owing to the flak, Twitter restored the majority of these blocked accounts which did not sit well with the Government of India. The situation became so ugly that it came to the life security of the employees of the social media giant in the country.
“Social media is an important component of #DigitalIndia. But if it is misused to spread fake news, incite violence or influence India’s electoral process, then strict action will be taken,” said the Information Technology (IT) Minister in the Rajya Sabha.
With this, the government hinted that it directed blocking of accounts that were spreading fake news and were responsible for the violence that ensued on Republic Day at the Red Fort. Here is a list of a few affected accounts, some of whom are still withheld or suspended;
|Twitter Handle||Name||Twitter Bio|
|@imMAK02s||Md. Asif Khan||Indian, Muslim, Socialist 🌹Tweets about Politics & Social Issues. Documenting cases of Hate Crime, Mob Lynching, Islamophobia in India.|
|@thecaravanindia||The Caravan Magazine||India’s finest magazine of politics and culture.|
|@Kisanektamorcha||Kisan Ekta Morcha||This is the Official Twitter Account to Get All the Exclusive Updates About Kisan Protest.|
|@manavijyan||NOT AVAILABLE ON TWITTER ANYMORE||NOT AVAILABLE ON TWITTER ANYMORE|
|@derasachasauda||Still Withheld||Still Withheld|
|@Bkuektaugrahan||BKU Ekta Ugrahan||Official Account of Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta) (Ugrahan). Stay Tuned for Exclusive Update About Kisan Protest|
|@tractor2twitr||Tractor2ਟਵਿੱਟਰ||Tractor To Twitter is a campaign to support protesting farmers on social media against the farm bills|
|@aartic02||Aarti||CHANGE’ is the Goal. Social Media is my weapon. Enriching Journey with AAP National, Social Media Team. Be a part of Changing 1 Life, Its Worth it|
|@sushant_says||सुशांत सिंह sushant singh سشانت سنگھ||Indian Actor, Atheist, #TeamSAATH|
|@salimdotcomrade||Md Salim||Marxist. Politburo Member-CPI(M). Served Rajya Sabha for 2 terms. Ex MP Raiganj & Calcutta NE. Ex Youth Affairs & Minority Development Minister West Bengal.|
|@sanjukta||Sanjukta Basu||Writer | Photographer | Pursuing PhD #GenderTrolling #Nationalism TEDFellow | TEDx Speaker Bylines in @Firstpost @dailyO_ @thewire_in @NH_India @HuffPostIndia|
|@HansrajMeena||Hansraj Meena||Writer, blogger & Socio- Political Activist with Principle of secularism, Equality, Humanity & Justice. A tribal, Son of Farmer. Founder of @TribalArmy|
|@EpicRoflDon||Account Suspended||Account Suspended|
|@shashidigital||Shashi S शशि शेखर||CEO Prasar Bharati (Doordarshan & All India Radio) India’s Public Broadcaster. IIT Bombay alumnus|
Interestingly, the last handle @shashidigital is that of the Prasar Bharti CEO Shashi Shekhar and it is believed to be a mistake and the account that was actually supposed to be blocked is believed to be that of the Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
As is evident from the Twitter Bios of the affected accounts, almost all of them belong to either activists who have been actively tweeting about the Farmer Protests or accounts that were specifically made to keep people informed with authentic information about these protests. The government putting in efforts to get these accounts removed goes on to show that the protests are not being resolved but dealt with, which does not look good on the Democratic Fabric of the country.
A Twitter Trend and Introduction of the “Social Media Draft Rules”
In the latest chain of events regarding this tussle between the government and social media, the hashtags #modi_job_do and #modi_rozgar_do started trending on Twitter just as the Prime Minister was inaugurating the Motera Cricket Stadium in Ahmedabad, which has been renamed as Narendra Modi Cricket Stadium. The hashtags garnered more than 5 million tweets and held the number one position on Twitter trends for a considerable time. This was the demand of unemployed youth from across the country, asking the Prime Minister to provide them with jobs. However, the government once again reacted in a rather absurd way to this trend with the introduction of the Social Media Draft rules.
A day after the trends that exposed the rising unemployment in the country and the growing frustration among youth, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) announced its draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, for social media platforms, OTT players & digital media, with significant recommendations including asking social media companies to give out the originator of a message or tweet as the case may be.
During the press conference where these rules were announced, the IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said;
“We have not framed any new law. We have framed these rules under the existing IT Act. We are trusting the platforms to follow these regulations. The focus of these guidelines is on self-regulation.”
The Code of Ethics thus introduced shall inter alia apply to publishers of online curated content and intermediaries. It stipulates that an applicable entity shall exercise due caution and shall take into consideration the following factors, when deciding to feature any content on its platform:
- Content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India.
- Content which threatens, endangers or jeopardizes the security of the State.
- Content which is detrimental to India’s friendly relations with foreign countries.
- India’s multi-racial and multi-religious context.
- Activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group in India.
Though the government is yet to define who shall constitute a Social Media Subsidiary but the law Minister hinted that players with more than 50 lakh users will be considered.
The government wants social media companies to have a mechanism to address complaints from users. It wants social media intermediaries to have the following:
- Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules.
- Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.
- Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism.
All these officers have to be residents of India.
The rules also call for tracking of the ‘first originator’ of a message and apply to a significant social media intermediary. It also wants the significant social media intermediary to have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both. For players like WhatsApp, which are end-to-end encrypted, this could mean they will be forced to break encryption in India in order to comply.
Commenting on these rules, Siddharth Vardarajan, the Founding Editor the Wire said;
“Granting an inter-ministerial committee of bureaucrats, the power to pass judgment on what can and can’t be published or to decide on whether a media platform has responded adequately to grievances raised by members of the public has no basis in law and will amount to killing freedom of the press in India. The existing laws already define the reasonable restrictions on press freedom in India and “any reader or government official with a grievance is free to seek a legal remedy provided it falls within the four walls of the ‘reasonable restrictions’ defined by the Constitution and 70 years of Indian jurisprudence on them. The media cannot be compelled to address ‘grievances’ that go beyond that Lakshman Rekha.”
It is true that online harassment, trolling, death threats, rape threats, and violent threats are a raging concern in the country and Social Media has been used to incite violence on more than one occasions. However, one may question as to why the Freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution have more and more curbs put on them with every passing day and why is the government hell bent on putting its citizens under surveillance rather than enforcing the already existing provision of law which are more than adequate if enforced effectively.
In every way, the Government of India and its focus on the online activities of the citizens of the country seems to be a never-ending affair with the former acting like a jilted lover who will go to any lengths to make the later pay for his “dissent”, (pun intended).