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In meeting with Twitter, ministry mentions Greta’s toolkit, US Capitol violence

After Twitter on Wednesday issued a blog clarifying why it did not take action against certain handles, prompting the ministry’s reaction of “strong displeasure”, both sides communicated through a virtual meeting in which the ministry of electronics and IT referred to the toolkit that was shared by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The secretary of the ministry also referred to Twitter’s action in the wake of US Capitol violence and said in comparison with that, the microblogging platform’s action after Republic Day violence was inadequate.

> Monique Meche, vice president, Global Public Policy, Jim Baker, deputy general counsel and vice president (legal) represented Twitter at the meeting. Mahima Kaul who was Twitter’s India public policy director resigned a few days ago. The Twitter delegation met the secretary of the ministry Ajay Sawhney virtually.

> The meeting was sought by Twitter after the ministry warned of penal action against Twitter for not dragging its feet to act against Twitter handles which the ministry said were using hashtags related to “farmer genocide”.

> Twitter in its blog post said it took action against over 500 accounts in India after being persuaded by the ministry. But it did not take action against handles of political entities, journalists, politicians and activists because that would violate ‘freedom of speech’, Twitter said.

> IT secretary told Twitter representatives that India has a robust mechanism for protection of freedom of speech and expression. But freedom of expression is not absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions as mentioned in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India. “Various judgments of the Supreme Court have also upheld this from time to time,” the ministry said in its statement issued late on Wednesday.

> The secretary also told Twitter that it is free to formulate its own rules in India, as any other business entity does, but Indian laws which are enacted by Parliament must be followed irrespective of Twitter’s own rules.

> The hashtag of ‘farmer genocide’ was an incendiary and baseless hashtag, the secretary said and made it clear that the ministry was not pleased with Twitter’s “unfortunate” decision of not removing content pertaining to ‘farmer genocide’ from its platform.

> Twitter’s action after Capitol Hill violence in the US was more stringent than what it did after Republic Day violence. The ministry expressed its disappointment over this differential treatment.

> Twitter was told that it was not siding with ‘freedom of expression’ but was encouraging those who seek to abuse the freedom to provoke disturbance to public order.

> The toolkit shared by Greta Thunberg was also mentioned to Twitter. The ministry told Twitter that the toolkit proved that a strong social media campaign was being planned outside India and Twitter was one of its platforms for mobilisation. It was unacceptable, the ministry said.

> The ministry also questioned how Twitter officially allows fake, unverified, anonymous and automated bot accounts to be operated on its platform.

Twitter leadership affirmed their commitment towards following Indian laws and rules. They also expressed their continuing commitment towards building their services in India. They have also requested for better engagement between Government of India and Twitter’s global team.

The toolkit is being investigated by the Delhi Police as it said a copycat execution of the plan mentioned in the toolkit took place in Delhi at farmers’ protest. A toolkit is a social media document which explains an issue and action plans. Greta Thunberg tweeted it while she extended her support to the ongoing farmers’ protest.

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