New Delhi, May 27 (EFE).- Twitter and India on Thursday engaged in a bitter war of words after the social media giant expressed concern over a possible “threat to freedom of expression” in the world’s largest democracy.
The remark drew a sharp retort from the Indian government that the country had a “glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices.”
The America-headquartered microblogging site said it was worried about the safety of its staff in India following a police raid on its office in New Delhi after Twitter tagged as manipulated some posts by the members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“We are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement on the microblogging site.
“We 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,” the statement said.
In a hard-hitting statement, the government alleged that Twitter was trying “to defame India to hide its follies.”
“Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms. Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India’s legal system.”
The statement noted that law-making and policy formulations were the prerogative of the sovereign.
“Twitter is just a social media platform and it has no locus standi on dictating what should India’s legal policy framework be.”
Earlier, Twitter said it would continue dialog with the Indian government to “advocate for changes to elements of these regulations that inhibit free, open public conversation.”
Delhi Police on Monday showed up at a Twitter office in the capital for a probe into a case related to a post by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra that was labeled “manipulated content.”
Patra and many other leaders of the BJP had posted parts of a document allegedly created by the opposition Indian National Congress to highlight government failures in handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Congress complained to Twitter that the document was fake, prompting the social media site to tag posts related to it as “manipulated media.”
As the controversy raged, India’s controversial new regulations for online content came into effect on Wednesday.
The new policy allows the government to assert more control over online news portals, social media, and video-streaming platforms.
One of the most controversial clauses requires digital platforms to trace the originator of controversial messages for the “prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offense related to sovereignty and integrity of India.”
Content can be deemed contentious or mischievous if it harms “the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order,” the new guidelines say.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which has about 530 million users in India, had petitioned the Delhi High Court to block the implementation of the new rules, arguing that the policy was unconstitutional.
The guidelines have revived the self-regulation versus censorship debate in the country labeled “partly free” by Freedom House watchdog on the global internet freedom index.
Twitter and Indian authorities recently clashed over government orders to block hundreds of accounts as part of protests by farmers, as well as messages related to the coronavirus.